Queens Impact Awards: His influence on the medical community is felt around the country

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People who watched Joseph Lieber grow up in Forest Hills might have been tipped off that he was going to be a doctor one day by the way he would bring home organs from his father’s butcher shop and dissect them. He never lost his interest in medicine and science and decades later his passion is felt in every corner of the country.

Dr. Joseph Lieber is not just a kidney specialist. He is a clinical educator in the traditional sense and he’s been teaching legions of future doctors at Elmhurst Hospital Center since 1983.

“We teach here and these young doctors take what they learn here to far corners of the country and the world,” Lieber said.

Despite the opportunity to move on to more lucrative positions in private hospitals over the years, Lieber has declined, preferring to remain right where he is.

“I will work in this place for as long as I can,” he said.

Lieber maintains Elmhurst Hospital Center is the finest place to teach because of the incredible diversity of its 1.7 million annual visitors. The hospital has translation services available in 150 languages. The ethnic mix in Queens and the proximity to LaGuardia and JFK airports bring even more visitors to the hospital from every corner of the world. And they carry with them every affliction imaginable.

“It is a unique place and the diversity cannot be beat. What you see here you will not see anywhere else,” he said.

A recent residency review from the School of Medicine at Mount Sinai called the hospital a unique place. “There seems to be some kind of energy about this place, because all of the residents seem to light up and speak of there time at Elmhurst very enthusiast­ically,” the review said.

It is the perfect atmosphere for learning, according to Lieber, and one of his colleagues said it’s because of Lieber’s influence.

“In an age where the health care landscape is pushing physicians towards factory-like efficiency, over-testing and over-prescribing, Dr. Lieber is the role model for traditional medical education: Patient-centered bedside teaching,” Dr. Kaushal Shah said. “Residents and medical students revere him for his diagnostic skills, judgment and dedication to their development as physicians. Dr. Lieber is the ultimate clinician and educator -- The William Osler of our day.”

Osler was one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the late 1800s, a clinical educator who revolutionized the medical curriculum in both the United States and his native Canada. Osler’s dedication to education laid the foundation for the future at Hopkins.

Leiber, who starts work at 4 a.m., said early mornings are great for clearing the head and planning the day’s lessons. “I am cutting back a little bit, I’m down to six days a week,” he said.

Throughout his career at Elmhurst Hospital Center, Lieber has been the recipient of more than 25 teaching awards both nationally and regionally. He won one of the awards so many years in a row that the award was retired.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 12:00 am, May 12, 2014
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