I Gravitate to the “Why” Behind Diseases

Name: Joe Chaffin, MD

Specialty: Pathology

Education: Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Letterman Army Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Areas of Expertise: Blood banking, transfusion medicine

Current Position: Vice President/Chief Medical Officer of LifeStream Blood Bank in San Bernardino, CA

1. Why did you choose pathology?

When I started medical school, I would have told you with iron-clad certainty that the one thing I would NEVER be is a pathologist! My older brother, my lifelong hero, is a pathologist, and the last thing I wanted to do was compete with him. However, as I rotated through different specialties, I found myself gravitating back to the “why” behind the different diseases. I was fascinated by the processes more than the actual treatments. Then I got exposed to Transfusion Medicine, and it was over for me!

2. What area of your specialty is changing most rapidly?

Pathology in general, and my subspecialty of Transfusion Medicine, is rapidly changing to accommodate new molecular practices and techniques. In blood banking, I foresee a near horizon where blood donors and patients are exquisitely matched on genetic terms, significantly decreasing complications, antibody formation, and overall effectiveness of routine transfusions.

3. What is the last journal article or piece of research that significantly changed your practice?

Nancy Heddle’s article showing that the age of blood at the time of transfusion has no impact on mortality (N Engl J Med 2016;375:1937–1945) had huge impact, as it put to an end the argument that blood banks needed to change our entire structure and issue the freshest possible units (at least for now!).

4. Tell us a little about Blood Bank Guy. What is the goal of the blog and podcast?

Blood Bank Guy (www.BBGuy.org) grew out of the combination of my passion for teaching basic Transfusion Medicine and an obvious lack of effective education in my field among pathology residents, laboratorians, practicing pathologists and clinicians, and nurses. I found a huge knowledge gap (that still exists, by the way), and started my site in 1998 as a repository for learners to learn! My podcast, “Blood Bank Guy Essentials,” aims to educate all learners (whatever their background or current role) about core, foundational Transfusion Medicine topics.

5. Who are your mentors? Who are you inspired by?

As a young pathologist, I was influenced by many physicians in my time in the Army, including my most direct mentors, Drs David Frishberg, Rick Giangeruso, and Frank Bauer. They taught me how to demand a lot of myself, but more importantly, how to stop taking myself so seriously, allow my personality to come out, and enjoy what I was doing! Today, I am inspired by educators, no matter the field. I love people that do unexpected and creative things, in an effort to help people learn. I describe them as “mold-breakers” and “risk-takers,” and they are the people I want to learn from and emulate!

6. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My mother taught me at a very young age that life is better when you assume the person across from you has good intentions. As a result, I always try to take potentially toxic interactions (which happen from time to time in Transfusion Medicine, especially when I’m advising a clinician on a difficult problem and I disagree with their proposed course of transfusion therapy) and turn them into situations of mutual benefit. I try to operate with the assumption that both of us simply want to do the right thing for a patient, and it defuses most tense situations.

7. What has been your most gratifying moment of being a clinician?

I am very blessed to be around blood donors in my job as a Blood Center Chief Medical Officer, and my life is filled with gratifying moments. I could never select just one, but I can share a story that illustrates why I do what I do. Just today, I received a call from a physician at a hospital my blood center serves. Several months ago, we provided the hospital with granulocyte concentrate for a desperately sick young man with leukemia. Granulocytes are not a “standard” product, and producing them requires great time and effort, as well as significant inconvenience to the volunteer donors. Following this patient’s course of granulocytes, however, he was able to fight off a very aggressive fungal infection, leave the hospital, and spend an extra two months with his family and friends before passing away from his disease. Helping to get that patient an extra two months of life is incredibly gratifying.

8. How do you unwind after a challenging day?

My family is everything to me, and my wife and children are the greatest blessing of my life. I spend as much time as I can with them away from the office. For non-family pursuits, I just enjoy creating things, whether that is with words or design. I work on developing online courses for basic Transfusion Medicine medical education (coming soon) and try to improve my podcast or website.

9. If you weren’t in pathology, which specialty would you be in? If you weren’t a clinician, what would you do?

Most pathologists are not like the stereotype (you know, we hate patient contact, we prefer staring at a microscope rather than a person, and we have lousy bedside manner because our “patients” are all dead! Ha. Ha.). Anyway, my favorite part of medicine is obstetrics. Delivering babies in medical school was my favorite thing to do in medicine (and nothing else even came close!).

If I were not a physician, I would be teaching high school or college science, driving those kids crazy with new and creative ideas, and having a blast doing it!

10. What are your favorite Doximity features and how have they helped your productivity (Dialer, DocNews, Career Navigator, e-Fax, etc.)?

I enjoy connecting with colleagues and classmates from the past through Doximity. I have re-connected with many medical school classmates that I have not seen since the day we graduated!

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