About Dr. Chambers
On being Joseph Chambers: I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and have been living in the United States for the past 20 years. I earned my medical degree from University College Dublin (UCD) and did my postgraduate training in internal and critical care medicine at the University of Alberta in Canada. I currently work in acute care seeing scores of patients daily dealing with everything from hemorrhoids to heart attacks. Having practiced medicine in Europe, Canada and the United States gives me a unique outlook on the health care world. I can spot fads from a mile away and warn patients to avoid them at all costs. Also, I am a passionate advocate of patients taking responsibility for their own health. It’s the only true path to good health.
In addition to practicing medicine, I also am the writer, producer and host of my radio program, Dr. Chambers on Call. On my show, sometimes referred to as “talk radio’s medicine,” I educate and, hopefully, entertain listeners about how to stay healthy and get back to being healthy when they’re sick. I field calls from listeners, frequently quelling their fears about a recent diagnosis or family member’s illness, as well as provide much-needed explanations about complicated conditions. I often delve beyond the physical manifestations of an illness to help listeners explore the emotional impact of illness on themselves and their families.
On attending medical school in Ireland: In Ireland, students must decide in high school if they want to become a doctor and then enter into an extremely competitive national exam. If successful, they go directly to medical school. Meaning, you decide at the tender age of 17 or 18 whether you want to be a doctor. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. One advantage is that you actually get to practice medicine by the time you’re 24! The disadvantage? You actually get to practice medicine by the time you’re 24! Some believe medical school at this age when most young people are developing a sense of maturity and self is detrimental. I agree it’s a problem. Eventually, though, it all works out in the wash, but I do believe to be a good doctor you need some life experience.
On being a doctor: I saw becoming a doctor as a great challenge, and I thought it would be an amazing adventure. And, believe me, it has been. The thing about practicing medicine is that you see the best and the worst of us humans. As a student, I remember being horrified when a family dumped an elderly, confused parent in the ER and then headed off for the holiday. You lose this kind of innocence quickly if you want to survive. At the same time, I’ve seen extraordinary moments of love and compassion, and those moments, by far, outweigh the bad ones.”
On “knowing it all”: My listeners often ask: “How do you know the answers to everyone’s medically related questions.” The truth is, I don’t. But with all my years of training and continuing medical education—not to mention two decades of experience–I can generally muster an informed opinion. So often, it’s not the technical answer to the medical question that my listeners or patients seek. Many just want some assurance that what they are experiencing is normal, that they aren’t alone and that someone genuinely cares about them. So, do I know it all? No, but hopefully, I’m in touch with the more important stuff. And if you want to catch me out on something, just ask me where I left my car keys.
“On the tough moments”: There are moments in all doctors’ lives that stay with you for life. The first time you tell someone they are terminally ill is one. The first time I did this the patient’s name, amazingly enough, was Joe. He was a cab driver and I’ll never forget him. His reaction to the news was priceless: Because his wife was afraid of white coats, he didn’t want me to tell her. After 30 years together, it was on him to tell her, he said, but all in good time. He’d find the right moment. No maudlin with Joe, out and back to life–or at least what was left of it. He taught me a lot, Joe did, dealing with the diagnosis in his own way, with his own style. And with two decades of practice under my belt, I now understand this means more to a terminally ill patient than anything else.
In contrast, believe it or not, convincing a patient that they’re well and not sick can be equally tough but in a different way. I’ve had patients that were genuinely disappointed when I told them they were well. Absolutely flabbergasted that all their tests were normal and they’re disease free. The reality is that for some people there’s a huge emotional gain to being sick. Being sick gets them lots of attention and sympathy, so for them “good news, you’re well,” isn’t always “good news.” This is where a physician needs to stop treating the body and start treating the mind. I never fancied myself as a salesman, but I frequently find myself selling the concept of “your tests are all normal and that’s a good thing.”
On being a radio show host: Dr. Chambers On Call has been on the air now for about five years. Initial reactions were funny. As my mom said: “You have the face for radio but the voice . . . I dunno.” Anyhow, with my perfect “radio face,” the show has grown from one to two hours with quite a following.
My native Irish language uses the word “seanchai” to describe a storyteller. Telling stories through words or music is at the heart of the Irish culture. It’s allowed people to weather incredible hardship and personal loss while allowing the young to learn and to benefit from the experience of past generations.
Although I pursued a career in medicine, the inclination and enjoyment of storytelling lives within me. Being a radio show host is my outlet for storytelling. And, I feel that the better tale I weave, the more likely my listeners will engage and take something meaningful away. Health care topics can be dry and boring, but wrapped in a funny or poignant story makes them come alive and resonate. So let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to all my past patients that keep me in possession of endless yarns so I can keep you, my listeners, healthy without a co-pay.
On Hot Topics: One week I was very frustrated with my mother back in Ireland; she was sick and would not go to the hospital no matter what her doctor said. She was having chest pain and didn’t think a hospital could do anything for her. As she said herself, “What earthly good could a hospital do for me? In me own home I can rest and make a cup of tea when I want. You could die of thirst up in that place before they’d see you had a mouth on you.” That “place” of course, was a modern 21st century hospital with all its gadgets. Fortunately after many calls, the involvement of two of my sisters and my mom’s local doctor, I was able to determine that although the entire situation was a pain somewhere in my lower body, it wasn’t a serious chest or heart issue with my mom.
Later, when I recounted the story on the air, I was surprised by the reaction. From social media to patients in my practice to co-workers at the radio station – every one of my feedback channels was brimming with comments related to my dilemma of a sick mom who wouldn’t listen to her son. The fact that I’m a doctor adds to the irony as I’m fairly certain that my mother remembers me attending medical school! As a result, my mom, her health and our relationship are now a recurrent story on the show.