The AOA’s 2021-2022 president, Joseph Giaimo, DO, grew up around medicine. A second-generation DO, he was a fixture in his father’s osteopathic primary care practice, where he met his father’s colleagues, went on house calls, and assisted with office work.
“It always was fascinating because of the way he interacted with people and the gratitude that they had towards him,” Dr. Giaimo says. “If they didn’t have money, they would give him a basket of peaches or something like that. It was old-fashioned medicine.”
In those early days, Dr. Giaimo fell in love with the art of practicing medicine. In this edited Q&A, he shares more details about his journey to medicine, his plans for his AOA presidential year, and what he enjoys about leadership within the osteopathic profession.
When you made the decision to be a physician, what was your education and training like?
I love photography and did a lot of freelance photography when I was growing up. I told my dad early on, “Well, I love medicine. I enjoy it and it’s great, but I think I want to be a photographer because I have this love of creating things.”
He challenged me. He said, “Well, if you think you’re smart enough to do it, then that’s OK.” It was like putting the gauntlet down for me, so I always looked at that as a bit of a challenge.
I eventually went to PCOM. My classmates were very collaborative. I enjoyed being around so many people who had similar interests, but it was also challenging, of course. There’s nothing more challenging than going through medical school.
But at the end of the day, you really feel the rewards of it. Every day, I go in and see my patients and get to know them over a period of time; it really does touch your heart.
Why did you choose osteopathic medicine?
My father was a DO, but he had friends who were MDs and DOs. MDs are incredibly trained. They’re gifted physicians and caring physicians. But the root philosophy of osteopathic medicine appealed to me more.
I saw the way we approach people in the osteopathic profession and the philosophy that we have toward medicine. It seemed like a natural fit. You’re taking care of the whole person and looking at things as they integrate together. There was never a question for me about what type of medicine I was going to go into.
When it came time to match, you went into internal medicine and pulmonary medicine. What attracted you to that?
I used to work in my father’s office, help him and go on rounds with him. He still did house calls, and I would come out and see him when I was in medical school, and we would do those calls together.
I liked the intensity of it, the critical care aspect of it. With medicine, you see people who function in different capacities in the medical field and in the house of medicine. But I always enjoyed critical care, so I decided to study pulmonary medicine.
The internal medicine residency program where I was had a very strong pulmonary department, and I enjoyed working with them. And they were great mentors to me, so it was a great opportunity to move into that profession.
As you get ready to take over as president, what do you think the AOA did well in the past year with all the pandemic challenges?
In some ways, the pandemic was a chance to reset. AOA President (Thomas) Ely has given us a chance to see what a virtual presidency looks like, and he never missed a beat with it. Like anything in our profession, when we’ve met challenges, we always get to the other side of them and become stronger.
I’m a traditional guy. But we look back and say, “You know what, we were able to do it just as well, or maybe better, when we had to be virtual.” As we move forward, we need to take those lessons and incorporate them into our operations.
The osteopathic profession is really coming into its own now. We have challenges like anybody else, but we are strongly positioned to succeed, and we’ve retooled the way we do business to be more nimble and more responsive.
We’ve also seen gaps in the health care system in this country where there are huge swaths of people that were underrepresented and undertreated. The osteopathic medical profession is uniquely suited to focus on health care disparities. Our focus on primary care and our approach to our patients have already brought care to many underserved patients.
What are some areas of focus for you and the AOA in the coming year?
In a nutshell, inclusion, DO Pride, and continuing to evolve the way the AOA does business.
A foremost goal I have is to maintain the pride in our profession and our culture and ensure that our osteopathic family stays united. We also need to continue to break down any barriers to make sure that everyone is welcomed into the house of medicine, particularly our portion of the house of medicine.
Regarding business, we need to take the lessons we have learned from this last year and evolve them in the ways that make the most sense for us. We also need to make sure we remain fiscally responsible moving forward.
What do you enjoy about giving back?
My family has always been about leaning in and paying it forward. When I moved to Florida, I volunteered at our state level and our local level and got a chance to meet some really wonderful physicians, and many became mentors and friends over the years.
When you step back from it and realize the years that it took—from the state level and then going into the national level now—I see that it has been 18 years. That’s a lot of time to put in. But I’ve met some incredible people and had some wonderful opportunities, just talking to folks and getting a chance to see where they are.
We come from different areas of country with different backgrounds and different life experiences. But at the end of the day, our mission is the same.
Over the last few months, I’ve had a chance to travel a bit and meet some of our colleagues across the country. When you sit with them, it’s like you’re sitting with your family. We have so many things in common.
Serving as president of a medical society takes a lot of time with meetings and speaking engagements and travel. How do you manage your AOA work and the time you dedicate to your practice?
You try to do the best you can to balance things. There’s things that I could certainly do better. I could get more exercise, not eat as much, and certainly drink less coffee. But you feed off the energy you get from meeting people and talking to them.
I had the honor of giving commencement speeches at osteopathic medical schools in Arkansas, Texas, and Kentucky. Having the chance to meet the faculty and staff at those schools and see what they’re doing makes me so proud of the profession.
I also love going to state meetings and seeing colleagues across the country and seeing their homes and their environment. Everywhere you go, people are welcoming. They’re proud of their communities, and they tell you the history of their area. The people make it worth it.
What do you do for fun when you’re not seeing patients or doing leadership work for the osteopathic profession?
My wife and I love to travel. I’m Italian, and Italy is my favorite place in the world to go. I try to con my wife into going there every year. I tell her that we’re going somewhere else, so we’ll fly to Munich for three days, then go down to Florence.
We also have two incredible young boys, and they are the joy of our lives. And we have a puppy who’s not so small anymore.
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and the roots run deep there. I am a big football fan, particularly the Philadelphia Eagles, so I live and die with the football season with them from week to week.