This month we talk with Dr. Joseph Hennessy, 2020 recipient of the Ilene Goodman Award. Dr. Hennessy is an Internal Medicine physician who completed medical school and training at Rush University, where he has been an attending physician since 1990. He is also on staff at Northwestern University. At CommunityHealth, Dr. Hennessy supervises both medical students and residents from Rush in addition to his role as Associate Medical Director. Additionally, he serves on the CommunityHealth Board and saw patients onsite weekly during the pandemic. Dr. Hennessy plays an instrumental role in making our clinic the wonderful place it is today – read on to learn more about him!
In a few sentences, tell us more about yourself and your background!
My grandparents were born in Ireland (dad’s side) and Italy (mom). My parents were born in Chicago. My father was not educated, barely made it out of high school but had a very strong work ethic. His passion was cars and he ended up opening up a car dealership in his early 20’s and became a successful automobile dealer. His main goal in life was to make sure all his children had the opportunity to go to college. My dad always lamented his lack of education and thought he could have been a better person if he had the opportunity to go to college.
My interest in health care stemmed from my father. Again, he never had the opportunity to go to college so he wanted his children to “do something good in life” and encouraged me to become a physician. I did well in high school and then went to college in the premed program. I ended up loving all fields of medicine and chose Internal Medicine as I loved the continuity of seeing patients.
If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?
I never thought much about a “superpower” but I suppose it would be nice to have X-ray vision to earlier diagnose and treat my patients. I would also love to be able to throw a 95 mile per hour fastball.
Outside of volunteering with CommunityHealth, how do you like to spend your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy fitness at the local health club and I am addicted to Peloton. My profile name is joe35sox if anyone wants to follow me! I also spend a lot of time with my wife Melissa and my 5 children. I especially love getting together for dinner, sampling different foods, and having wonderful conversations where I learn about many topics in life.
I am also a baseball nut! I attend 40-50 games a year and I have season White Sox tickets. I have been one of the Team Physicians for the White Sox since 2004 and spend one week in Spring Training in mid-February performing physicals on the team and staff and clearing the players to play. I am the self-appointed “Director of Shagging” during Spring Training as I run from field to field shagging fly balls during batting practice…and I love it! During the 2021 season, I worked close to 35 games at the ballpark.
What’s your favorite book or movie?
Admittedly I don’t read as many non-medical books as I would like but I do like WWII books. Some of my favorites include Unbroken, The Zookeepers Wife, and 109 East Palace. My favorite movies range from Sandlot and Field of Dreams to The Godfather and Silence of the Lambs.
What is something that not a lot of people know about you?
I am embarrassed to say I cannot swim. As a child, I always dreamed of being Aquaman. Well, it isn’t going to happen!
Why and how did you begin volunteering at CommunityHealth?
I have been coming to CommunityHealth since 2008. I don’t really consider coming to CommunityHealth as volunteering; it is just something I do to help others. I believe being a health care provider is the best job in the world as I cannot think of another job out there that gives so much emotional reward. The staff at CommunityHealth is top-notch, all working in collaboration to achieve the same goal of providing quality health care to all. Most of the patients at CommunityHealth are hard-working people and are so appreciative of the care they receive. It is a win-win situation on both sides.
What has kept you volunteering all this time?
I continue to come to CommunityHealth as there is still a lot of work to be done to increase the quality of care. Recently, I sent a diabetic patient to the ER with a draining ulcer on her leg. I provided her a summary of my concerns with my cell phone number to give to the ER doc in case there was an issue. Well the patient was not seen for 13 hours so she called me on my cell. Eventually she was seen and was taken to the OR urgently and sent home that same night after her infection was cleaned out and treated. I am working on trying to figure out how to expedite the process so a patient does not have to wait more than one day to be seen with a serious infection.
What is something you’ve learned from volunteering at CommunityHealth?
As a health care provider, I am always learning every day. Not only do I learn about medical issues from the students and residents whom I teach, but I also learn from my patients. I learn about the barriers to health care when a patient tells me they had to take 3 buses to get to the clinic and it took them over an hour. Several years ago, while working at the Franciscan Homeless shelter, a resident asked me for a refill for a common blood pressure pill at the clinic but we did not have it in stock. I told him I could write a prescription and it only will cost $4.00. He looked at me incredulously and said he didn’t even have a quarter in his pocket. I am always learning.
Can you share an especially memorable moment working with a patient, fellow volunteer, or staff member?
A funny memory in CommunityHealth sticks out. As background, I am still trying to improve my Spanish skills. When talking to a patient in clinic, I was trying to tell her that her liver exam was normal but instead of using the work “higado” (liver), I substituted “helado” (ice cream) and the patient looked at me funny. After realizing my mistake, the patient could not stop laughing. She hugged me at the end of the exam, still laughing, and thanked me. That is why I love my patients!
CommunityHealth is able to provide high quality, free healthcare to our patients thanks to the generosity of volunteers like Dr. Hennessy. We’re so grateful for his continued support of our mission and our patients!