Family Doctor Celebrates 40 Years in Norristown
One in a continuing series
Joseph Calamia, DO, is an avuncular family doc who enjoys reminiscing about medical yesteryear – when family docs did hospital rounds and house calls; when patient histories were documented on handwritten 3-by-5-inch cards; when you pumped quarters into pay phones to respond to emergencies if you were out of the office.
Dr. Calamia has earned his nostalgia. He’s celebrating his 40th anniversary in the same medical practice that he joined in 1981. The practice, Norristown Family Physicians, is in its 80th year, and it is one of, if not the oldest physicians’ practice in Montgomery County.
Dr. Calamia revels in the longevity both of his medical career and the practice itself. He’s been around so long, he’s treating the grandchildren of patients he treated when they were babies.
“That’s how you know you’ve come full circle,” he says. “I took care of their parents as new babies and they’re now having babies of their own. We have four and five generations of patients in this practice.”
Norristown Family Practice was established in 1941 – the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked – by Thomas Natoli, MD, who was one of the few local men unable to enlist in the military because of medical disqualification. For many years, the physicians in the practice were mostly Italian and everyone seemed connected to one another in the medical version of Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon.
As Dr. Calamia relates:
“I was delivered by Dr. Joseph Russo whose practice was bought by Joseph Dimino, who later partnered with Dr. Natoli. Dr. John Zaro was delivered by Dr. Natoli, and later joined the practice in 1976.
“Drs. Dimino, Zaro, Kevin Melnick, and myself all went to Holy Savior grade school. I knew Dr. Melnick since childhood, and he dated and eventually married my first cousin, Valerie.”
Dr. Calamia had several illnesses when he was a child, and “a lot of sick kids end up liking medicine,” he says. “I was either going to be a priest or a doctor – and I liked girls a lot, so the priesthood was out,” he says with a laugh.
But many of the decisions he made seemed more serendipitous than deliberate.
About how he picked his college: “My best friend, Jerry Brown, and I cut class at Norristown High. As we’re coming in, the vice principal sees us and runs after us. We duck into a room and slam the door and there’s a guy recruiting to Elizabethtown College. I’d never heard of it before.”
Early Med School Admission
About how he picked his medical school. “I was a sophomore at Elizabethtown and I came across a pamphlet from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. I never heard of it and I didn’t know what an osteopath was. But it said you can apply for early admission. I did spectacularly on my MCATs (medical school admission tests) and applied when I was going into my junior year.”
The college was impressed by someone with the chutzpah to apply as a sophomore, and accepted him, he says. He then skipped his senior year in college.
Dr. Calamia was personally recruited by Dr. Natoli and has been in the practice ever since. He acknowledges that the old days of medicine weren’t necessarily the good old days.
Yes, he could do without patients being influenced by “Dr. Google” and instructions on what tests to order and what medicine to prescribe, like they’re “ordering from McDonald’s.”
Yes, he laments the restraints of burdensome paperwork and oversight that have limited doctors’ prerogatives, so that “there are 12 administrators for every doc, instead of one administrator for five docs.”
But he marvels at the advances he’s witnessed over four decades – from preventive medicine that mitigates chronic disease, to the transformation of many illnesses from terminal to survivable, to electronic records that enable him to see patients’ histories from home.
“Back then, you were lucky to make it to 70. Now, to me, 70 is relatively young and even with people in their 80s who want to give up, I say, ‘No, you’re only 82.’”
As for Dr. Calamia, he’s only 65 and is looking forward to keeping the practice going.
“Whatever you think you know now is nothing compared to what a doc will know in another 40 years,” he says.