Paul Scheinberg, the chief medical officer at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital, choked up at the thought of ending his career. After 38 years as a pulmonologist in Atlanta, Scheinberg has retired.
He leaves a legacy in pulmonary medicine that sets the bar for doctor-patient relationships.
“I learn from everybody — when I meet with my patients and I ask them what they do for a living,” Scheinberg said. “In a rushed world, there’s no time for that.”
Standing a little over 5-foot-6, Scheinberg matches his achievements with a warm personality. He’s not your typical physician. While many doctors shy away from religion, he looks to Judaism for guidance. A copy of the Pirke Avot sits on his desk, and the Physician’s Prayer by the 12th century scholar Maimonides hangs on his wall.
“That prayer is to appeal to strength from G-d to direct the physician,” Scheinberg said.
He takes personal phone calls from former patients, many of whom still ask to see him. It’s his bedside manner that sets him apart from other top physicians.
“The burden to do more with less is so much a part of the health care arena that doctors are under so much pressure they often compromise what I consider to be the most valuable part of medicine, which is the relationship with patients,” he said.
He worked hard to instill those values at Emory St. Joseph’s as the chief medical officer, but it was a stretch to move into an administrative role, he said.
“It was a very steep learning curve for me to understand that in the administrative arena the focus is not on individual patients, but operating a large enterprise,” Steinberg said.
When Emory purchased his Atlanta Pulmonary Group practice, his focus turned toward the collective of individuals that sometimes came into conflict with the doctor-patient relationship, but when mentoring young doctors, he emphasized patient care, said Dhavel Desai, an internist at St. Joseph’s.
He met Scheinberg when he was transitioning into a leadership role. He said the CMO has always been supportive and focused on physician collaboration.
“He really knows what patient care is about and built himself and the hospital around the community,” Desai said. “He was very engaged in what the hospital was doing.”
Scheinberg, who has worked at St. Joseph’s since 1979, served as chief of Staff for six years. He added the role of chief quality officer, then became chief medical officer in April 2013.
“My entire career, my focus was not to be the biggest but the best at where I am,” Scheinberg said. “I was focused on branding myself as an individual and aggregating myself with like-minded individuals.”
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., he always knew he wanted a career in medicine. Growing up, he would follow his father, a Polish immigrant and physician, around Maimonides Medical Center. He completed medical school at SUNY Downstate for financial reasons and because his father was a faculty member.
When it was time for his residency, Scheinberg made a decision that changed the course of his life.
“I knew I needed to flee the coop. I didn’t want to stay in New York. Atlanta wasn’t on the map for a Jewish kid from Brooklyn,” Scheinberg said. “They didn’t see many people like me. When they asked me what brought me to Atlanta, I said New York.”
Atlanta was more appealing than the Northeast or Los Angeles. The young medical school graduate rated Emory as his first choice and completed a yearlong internal medicine residency at Grady Memorial Hospital.
His residency was interrupted in 1973 by military service. He was commissioned as an officer in the Navy, where he was a naval flight surgeon who worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant commander. “It was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.”
He was impressed with pulmonary physiology, in which naval aviators were subject to abnormal environments. He was deployed for two years with a helicopter mine squadron in Egypt near the Suez Canal.
While in Egypt he embarked on a personal journey to find the remaining Jews in Alexandria.
“It was at the intersection of naivete and stupidity because I couldn’t tell anyone where I was going,” Scheinberg said. “I found a little community in central Cairo, and I went to their synagogue and spent Simchat Torah there.”
His interest in Israel began after the Six-Day War, when, by Day 10, he was on a plane to Jerusalem. He returned to Israel for two consecutive summers before entering the Navy.
After his military service, he completed his residency in 1978 and did a pulmonary fellowship at Crawford Long Hospital in 1979, after which he opened the Atlanta Pulmonary Group.
The practice grew to nine physicians and included a sleep lab. Scheinberg’s interest evolved to include bronchiectasis and early detection of lung cancer.
After a rewarding career in medicine that has transformed the lives of many patients, the retired doctor hopes to spend more time with his wife, Suzy, and his three sons. He’s looking forward to traveling with them, the first stop being Israel, which he has visited every couple of years for decades.
Scheinberg has been involved with Jewish National Fund’s efforts to establish communities in the Negev and near the Jordanian border. He met Michele Melamed, an emergency medicine physician at Emory University Hospital, through JNF’s Israel doctor division.
Melamed was impressed by Scheinberg’s connection to Judaism.
“He comes from a background that I can relate to,” she said. “He’s impacted my life as a Jewish woman entering the community as a physician.”
Melamed said Scheinberg gave her guidance on how to be a better physician and get the most out of her career. She said he will never stop being a mentor to her, but “he deserves this time to redirect his goals and life.”
Studying Torah and contributing to the Atlanta Jewish community are on his list of things to do. He plans to volunteer at Ramah Darom and learn more about investments in Israeli technology.
In his business, it’s easy to prioritize medicine over everything. He’s looking forward to more balance in his life but also feels some ambivalence.
“I feel very fortunate to have had a career in the best of medicine during the best of times and now to take back some control of my time,” Scheinberg said. “But it’s still a little intimidating.”