Joel Mascaro, DO, assistant professor, A.T. Still University-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA), celebrated a significant milestone in 2020. Dr. Mascaro has now practiced medicine for 50 years. While he didn’t exactly grow up dreaming about a career in medicine, the guidance he received that got him on that path, he feels can never be repaid. Instead, his life’s mission is to pay it forward and find a way to guide others to discover their passion for medicine.
“Do something to give forward, instead of paying back,” Dr. Mascaro said.
It all started one summer break before his sophomore year of college. Just like every other summer, Dr. Mascaro found a job to occupy his time and make a little money. His uncle was close friends with a local physician who had a booming medical practice and helped Dr. Mascaro secure a job.
“He was a bone cracker,” Dr. Mascaro said. “An osteopath from way back. He said, ‘You know, if you ever want to go to medical school, look me up.’”
After the summer job ended, Dr. Mascaro continued seeing this doctor as his primary care physician and was therefore able to continue witnessing osteopathic medicine firsthand. When Dr. Mascaro made the decision to further his education and go to medical school, they sat down together and reviewed his application, noting it was not overly competitive. Dr. Mascaro recalls that conversation.
“He said, ‘You are going to be competing against very smart individuals in this 94-person class,’” Dr. Mascaro said. “‘Here’s what I am going to do, I am going to stick my neck out for you. You have one responsibility,’ he said, ‘Don’t damage my name.’”
When Dr. Mascaro was accepted as the 94th person in the class at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, he took that responsibility very seriously. He rolled up his sleeves and ended up graduating with some of the highest honors of the class. He was ranked sixth in his class, receiving honors like the Public Health Award and the President’s Award.
“What he gave to me, to pay back would be impossible,” Dr. Mascaro said. “So, I ventured on this journey, always keeping in mind to pay forward, do something to give forward instead of paying back.”
Dr. Mascaro has found many opportunities in his career to pay it forward, one being teaching with ATSU-SOMA since the school opened in 2007.
“I am very blessed to be there for 14 years,” Dr. Mascaro said. “I started out in osteopathic manipulative medicine the first two years, then have been in medical skills ever since.”
Over the years, Dr. Mascaro has experienced many moments when he has been able to help steer his patients’ lives in the right direction.
“The most gratifying thing is when you do good,” Dr. Mascaro said. “Save a life, directly or indirectly. Helping and caring, making house calls in the middle of the night, delivering babies, it all just blends into a wonderful career.”
Dr. Mascaro has seen many highs and lows in medicine over the past 50 years, including various epidemics. He recognizes the world is definitely changing during the coronavirus pandemic in many ways, thanks to technology.
“Technology seems to be on steroids right now; telemedicine is huge,” Dr. Mascaro said. “It allows us to continue to talk. You could have a sore neck and I can tell you where to put your hands, prescribe medicine, and check back through Skype or Zoom.”
As an instructor with ATSU-SOMA, Dr. Mascaro lives his mission of paying it forward and takes interest in the lives of his students. He does his part to ensure their success in medical school.
“Somebody mentored me,” Dr. Mascaro said. “I think it would make a complete individual, whatever field you are in, by helping someone else. Just do it. It’s paying it forward.”
While some people might be shocked that he continues to see patients and practice medicine after 50 years, Dr. Mascaro loves the interactions with patients and students, so he continues. He encourages his students to find the thing that makes them happy within the medical field, to keep that spark alive for a lasting career, whether it be delivering babies, reading x-rays, doing autopsies, or being in the primary care field.
“We need more people who want to make a career out of medicine and feel the same way I do about it after 50 years,” Dr. Mascaro said. “That’s the key. There are things you can do to last 50 years, we can remember what got us to where we are. Keep moving forward but never forget where you came from.”