Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

RIP: JGS (1945-2013)

Dr. Joel Schwab

Dr. Joel Schwab

The world of medicine has lost a valiant practitioner and teacher, Dr. Joel Schwab.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to have met and worked with Joel during my time in Chicago.

We collaborated in support of a volunteer activity for undergraduates (who often eventually become medical students) called “Project Health,” which is now known as Health Leads.

Joel had a keen mind and was never afraid to ask challenging questions, the kind some are afraid to ask lest they be perceived as offensive. He exuded warmth and had a rich sense of humor.

He took care of kids from all over the south side of Chicago; some privileged, like faculty children (my own included), but most not.

Joel directed the pediatrics clerkship, the course of study for third year medical students who spend a month or two learning the discipline of pediatrics. Core clerkships like “Peds” are fundamental to a physician’s education.

Joel believed strongly in learning and practicing fundamentals–he wasn’t fond of changes in medical education that are guiding students away from his and other primary care disciplines. Other mandates have caused learners to have less time immersed in the learning milieu due to work hour restrictions–something he understood as necessary but costly.

Born right near the end of WWII, Joel predated the Baby Boom generation. It was reflected in his work ethic–doctoring to him was all about patients; not about himself, his lifestyle, or self-aggrandizement to move up the food chain.

I learned of Joel’s cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago, right after moving away from Chicago. True to his passion, Joel worked right through treatment and up until his death. His experiences as a patient gave him special insights into the training of doctors, as he now lived on “both sides of the gurney.”

In a fitting tribute, the University of Chicago’s graduating medical students invited Dr. Schwab to serve as their commencement speaker, a few weeks before he died. His speech is embedded below:


  1. Emily B.

    John, thanks for posting. I’m so sad to hear this – Dr. Schwab meant so much to the community and inspired many young folks like me to do our best to live up to his example. I’m so thankful for what he meant in my life and I know I’m far from the only one. A great man.

  2. Georgia Brandenburg

    I was blessed to be able to have worked at Ingalls Hospital when Dr. Schwab was there on the peds floor. He was a great Dr. plus a very nice person. He will be missed by many.

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