For Internal Medicine Physician Kiran Joag, MD, saying goodbye to a career he has loved for 38 years is difficult.
“I have enjoyed every day tremendously. It’s been very challenging at times, but a very fulfilling experience,” he said. “I have families with three generations in my practice, and I have formed long-lasting, meaningful relationships with many of my patients. I’m going to miss this tremendously.”
An open house to honor Dr. Joag is set for 1 to 4 pm Friday, December 20, in the Lumpkin Family Center for Health Education. His patients and coworkers are welcome to attend to celebrate the nearly 40 years he has served this community.
Born in western India, Dr. Joag graduated from high school when he was just 15. Fascinated with science, the young man thought initially that he would become an engineer, but he switched gears while attending The MS University of Baroda. “Medicine is both an art and a science, and that fascinated me even more [than engineering],” he explained. “I also wanted to be of service to my family and my community, because there are so many people who need help.”
Dr. Joag finished his medical degree at the age of 23 and immigrated to the U.S. in December 1976, just 10 days after marrying. He and Nandini have now been married for 42 years. The couple attended college together and were thankful when their parents granted marriage blessings – a rather progressive move in a generation and culture of arranged marriages.
Dr. Joag arrived in New York City six months before his wife and worked at Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx for one year. He finished his residency in Internal Medicine at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. Their son, Nihal, was born there in 1978.
The couple then moved to Mattoon in 1981 where he started practicing at the Link Clinic. While hospitals in smaller communities were often closing, Dr. Joag was impressed by his initial visit with Sarah Bush Lincoln board members. “They had a vision that was way ahead of its time,” Dr. Joag said. “I thought that this was my opportunity to grow with the hospital, and I’m really happy that my decision has proved me right.” Their daughter, Radhika, was born at Sarah Bush Lincoln in 1982.
Dr. Joag was among the first physicians to be employed by Sarah Bush Lincoln in the early 1990s, and he later started providing care at Family Medical Center in Mattoon. Dr. Joag said that he feels blessed to have been able to help so many people manage their health through the years. “When I start each day, I never know what to expect or what emergencies I’m going to see or how I will tackle them. Over the years, the resources have improved with access to telemedicine as well as multiple local specialty services, and that has allowed me to keep more patients close to home for care.”
During his 38 years in practice, “prevention has taken over a larger portion of our care rather than providing episodic care,” he said. “There’s also a better support system in place with home care nurses, palliative care, hospice care and Peace Meal. It has helped us to manage patients at home with increased comfort and security. It has taken care from the physical building out into the community.”
Known for his outstanding listening skills and empathetic and compassionate communication skills, Dr. Joag emphasizes the importance of the human factor in medicine. “I think the human touch is so important, in addition to all of the new technology. Without the human touch, there is no care; that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Dr. Joag likes to have fun with his patients, too. About 10 years ago, Dr. Joag started gifting each of his patients who turn 100 years old with a check for $101. “Many of my patients in their 90s joke with me about it and tell me that they’re just going to stay alive to collect the $101,” he said. “It’s all in fun, but we can see the demographic changes and the needs have changed. I have gifted many patients so far, and it always pleases me to do it because it speaks so highly about the medical care in this area.” Many of the patients later sent him notes to tell him that they donated the money to charity.
Through the years, Dr. Joag has served as president of Sarah Bush Lincoln’s medical staff, as the chief of internal medicine and on numerous quality improvement committees. In addition, Dr. Joag was honored to serve on the Sarah Bush Lincoln board of directors for eight years, a role that gave him a new perspective on enhancing care in the community.
Dr. Joag is especially proud of the tremendous growth that has taken place during his tenure at Sarah Bush Lincoln. “I have seen it grow from a small community hospital to a regional presence, and that has a lot to do with forward-thinking board members, community leaders and, most of all, the community support. People here are very generous and they get involved,” he said.
Dr. and Mrs. Joag have made a big impact on the community through their philanthropy. They have donated to the Peace Meal program for years, and they have established two endowment funds with the SBL Health Foundation in their parents’ names— one that provides a scholarship to a Coles County student pursuing a medical career and another that assists Regional Cancer Center patients with medical needs. Mrs. Joag has completed more than 5,000 hours of volunteering at Sarah Bush Lincoln, and she was named Volunteer of the Year in 2016. In June, the Joags received the SBL Health Foundation’s highest honor in philanthropy: the Soaring Eagle Award. Dr. and Mrs. Joag have also established a foundation in their hometown in India that empowers girls and women to be educated, self-reliant and self-sufficient.
While Dr. Joag will miss his patients and colleagues, he and Mrs. Joag eagerly anticipate spending more time with their children and grandchildren, Mira (age 3 ½ ) and Kavi (age 1½). While they plan to travel more, Mattoon is their permanent home.
“I’m just changing my pace and my role, but this is my home. I’ve been here longer than any other place,” Dr. Joag said. “I came here when I was 31 and now I’m 68. We would like to give back to our community as much as we can, because it has made us what we are.”