There’s a mixture of melancholy and excitement as Dr. Joy Wolfe prepares for a new phase in her medical career.
On the one hand, she’s going to miss treating her friends and neighbors in Ahwatukee, where she started practicing in 1996 a short time after she became a board-certified family doctor.
On the other, she’s also looking forward to becoming a staff physician at the Student Health Services center on Arizona State University’s main campus – where her academic preparation for her career began as an undergraduate student.
But another feeling she’s always had as a physician trumps both her sadness and her anticipation.
“I’ve always honored when I treat a patient, that I’ve been given a honor when they welcome you into their lives,” she said.
Most recently a staff physician at AZ Spine Disc and Sport, Wolfe feels particularly blessed when she ponders her 23 years in Ahwatukee.
“What other field do you get to care for two or three generations of families?” she explained. “Where else can you treat your friends and neighbors? This is such an amazing community.”
Wolfe isn’t moving from the home she has made in Ahwatukee after she started working at the old Samaritan clinic on Ray Road in 1996. She had joined there – four years after getting her medical degree from the University of Arizona School of Medicine and then completing her residency – after working for the Cigna medical center in Tempe.
Her oldest sister, who is now a retired physician, couldn’t understand why she liked being a family doctor instead of developing a specialty that would come with fewer administrative headaches and likely a more lucrative income.
And to that she would give the same answer: She felt privileged to be part of other people’s lives, trusted by them to take care of whatever ailed them.
She remembers telling her sister, “You see 10 patients; I see 10 stories.”
Her sister replied, Wolfe recalled, “‘Oh good Lord, you don’t talk to them, do you?’ I said, ‘That’s the fun of it.’”
She felt that being part of a family practice struck the right balance for her.
“I had no desire to open my open practice,” she explained. “I didn’t want to be the big boss. I just wanted to help people.”
“You meet so many different types of people, it’s like being part of a lot of different novels,” she said.
She has served her profession with distinction, winning several awards and earning raves from her patients.
Typical was this online rave from a patient: “I have gone to Dr. Wolfe for 19 years and have referred many of my friends and family to her. I would never go anywhere else.”
The youngest of five children by a father who was an engineer and a mother an elementary school teacher, Wolfe was indirectly inspired by her oldest sister.
It happened when her sister was in medical school at U of A and she invited her “to meet her cadaver.”
After her sister pulled up the sheet over the cadaver, Wolfe was struck by its pink fingernail polish.
“There was something so human about that,” she said.
She started wondering about the life behind that body and then realized “I was too damn nosy.”
She liked learning about people’s lives. Hence, “that’s why family medicine is so interesting.”
Wolfe isn’t giving up that natural curiosity when she begins her new job next month at ASU.
She was impressed immediately and a little bit awed by the size of the two-story student medical complex, which has a number of specialized facilities – including an isolation room for patients with contagious diseases.
She’s also awed by the student body’s immensity and diversity.
“It was big when I was there, but now it has grown so much,” she said.
As for the diversity, she was somewhat intrigued that there are so many students from so many different countries who speak so many different languages that there’s a telephone system that hooks up staff and patients with a live translator. “You couldn’t possibly have as many translators on staff as there are languages spoken by these students,” she said.
Wolfe said she’ll stop seeing her Ahwatukee patients next week, but will spend four weeks without picking up a paycheck before starting at ASU
The reason? The same devotion that has driven her career: “to be sure I have closed the loop on everything for patients. I wanted to be sure that no one had outstanding issues and figured four weeks would be enough to finish any loose ends.”
And once again, she expresses those dueling emotions as she prepares for a new stage in her career.
“The most difficult part is saying goodbye to my patients. It’s been a blast being here,” she said.
Then, she added, “I am so thrilled” about the ASU position. “It’s going to be great.”