Philadelphia Medicine Summer 2019 - 14

p h i l a m e d s o c  .org

Feature

A CONVERSATION WITH

DR. JAMES L. CRISTOL,

THE NEW PRESIDENT OF PCMS

M

edicine is in the DNA of James L. Cristol, MD, the new
president of the Philadelphia County Medical Society.
Dr. Cristol, an ophthalmologist, was brought up in a
home where medicine was second nature. His father, David S.
Cristol, MD, served as chief of urology at Jeanes Hospital for 40
years, while also playing a pivotal role in the Philadelphia County
Medical Society. He sat on the PCMS Board of Directors and was
the society's historian. His late wife endowed the PCMS Cristol
Award to encourage the educational, scientific and charitable work
of organized medicine.
As you'll discover in this interview, Dr. James Cristol loves his
work, in large part because he loves helping patients - something
he picked up from his father. At home, he learned well what it
takes to be among the best physicians.
Dr. Cristol took office on July 1.

college level. I was also pretty serious about becoming an airline
pilot, but my father, worried about my safety, discouraged that
idea! Coincidently, on a return visit to the Mayo Clinic, where
I was born during my father's urology residency there, I met his
former department head's son. This son, only slightly older than
myself, was already a junior pilot for Pan American and eventually
became chief pilot! This was my first experience with envy! Later,
I did obtain a private pilot's license, enjoyed myself, and perhaps
got flying out of my system.
I majored in zoology at Swarthmore, and was inspired by the now
late Professor Norman Meinkoth. He was a dynamic and thrilling
educator who was very approachable and very knowledgeable. I
took every course he gave, from invertebrate zoology to parasitology.
By then I was pretty committed to medicine as a career. But, as I
mentioned, zoology was quite tempting.

Why did you decide to be a doctor?

Why ophthalmology? Why surgery?

My father, David S. Cristol, was on the Board of Directors
of PCMS for 30 years, and he was a great role model, both as a
physician leader, and as a physician in general. I was proud when
people would come up to him when we were out to dinner, and
thank him for all he did for them...and when he would answer the
home telephone and tell a patient who couldn't pass his water what
to do. He would often say "sit in a tub of warm water for one hour
and try to void in the tub. If you're still unable after that, call me
back and we'll probably have to meet in the ER." I learned that I
could help people as a doctor, make a decent living and also learn
about fascinating human health science.

I took ophthalmology as an elective in medical school. I was
impressed by the gratitude of the patients who had their sight
restored. It seemed to me that the percentage of grateful patients
whose life was saved by medicine or surgery was on the low end.
It seemed that patients thought it was simply the doctors' job to
save their life, but it was the doctors' gift of sight that somehow
deserved special gratitude! Cataract surgery, in my student years, was
extremely dramatic! The eye was incised widely and the relatively
huge yellow cataractous lens was carefully lifted out. Then the eye
was sutured up. Cataract surgery is nothing like that now. Much
less risky and more highly technical, and, with plastic lens implants,
special spectacles are no longer necessary.

Did you ever consider anything other than medicine
as your professional goal in life?
I did consider other fields of endeavor! I enjoyed my major
in college, zoology, and thought about an academic life at the

14 Philadelphia Medicine : Summer 2019

I was caught in the Vietnam War doctor draft It hit me just
as I was starting my ophthalmology residency, and would have
drastically delayed my specialty board eligibility. Luckily, the Navy
agreed to let me finish my first year of ophthalmology training.
That made it possible for me to become a part-time optometric
officer, and more likely to be reaccepted by a residency program
on my return to civilian life.


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Philadelphia Medicine Summer 2019

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/PCMS_Philadelphia_Medicine/PhiladelphiaMedicine_Fallr2020
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