2020 | News

After 47 years of practice, retiring Potomac doctor honored by his patients

Taubin celebrated as ‘an old-fashioned doc’ who cares

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Dr. Joel Taubin's family and friends celebrated his retirement with him on Saturday. From left: Taubin's wife, Sonya; patient Gary Band; Taubin's daughter Staci Weltmann; patient Jacqueline Olinger; and Taubin.

Photo by Rose Horowitch

In 47 years practicing medicine, Dr. Joel Taubin of Potomac accrued a collection of mementos from grateful patients — including New York Yankees baseball cards, a Secret Service golf bag, and a poster-sized print of National Geographic’s famous “Afghan Girl” photograph.

“In every exam room, there were tokens,” said Staci Weltmann, his daughter and the office’s chief financial officer. “There was barely any wall space anymore.”

Now, with his office brimming with memories, Taubin has retired. His final day practicing medicine was on Thursday.

On Saturday afternoon, scores of patients surprised him and drove by his Potomac home — honking, cheering and launching him into retirement with fanfare.

Taubin specialized in internal, pulmonary and travel medicine. He initially planned to practice medicine for a few more years. But at 79 years old, the risk of contracting the coronavirus was too great.

Medicine was changing, and Taubin didn’t like speaking to his patients through a screen. He had always worked on paper charts, visited his patients as they recovered from procedures, and personally called them to deliver test results. The pandemic made this kind of personal interaction impossible.

“I enjoy studying people. I ask them where they’re from,” Taubin said. “People call me an old-fashioned doc. I am.”

Weltmann echoed the idea, calling Taubin’s office “the last of the mom-and-pops.”

Bernie Kolker, foreground in car, and his daughter, Tracy Kolker Ochsman, were part of the drive-by celebration for Dr. Joel Taubin, right. Bernie Kolker, 98, is one of Taubin’s patients. Tracy Kolker Ochsman flew in from Florida to bring her dad to the celebration. (submitted photo)

One patient, Erica Bovenzi, said that when other doctors dismissed her symptoms, Taubin listened. Because he knew her well, he trusted that she was ill and ordered a simple test. The next day, she had her gallbladder out.

“He took me seriously,” she said. “I literally am alive because of him.”

Taubin taught medicine at George Washington University. He told his students to always ask about patients, their hometowns, their occupations, what their parents do for a living.

In 1994, when Beverly Robinson had a gastric bypass surgery, she came out from under anesthesia and there was Taubin, having come to the hospital to visit.

“He had my life in his hands and I feel that I’m living 78 years because of him,” Robinson said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never find another doctor like Dr. Taubin.”

Robinson was one of Taubin’s first patients. Her whole family — including aunts, cousins, children, nieces and nephews — went to him.

When she found out he was retiring, she cried, she said. She had an appointment with her heart specialist that day, and her blood pressure was up. Taubin’s retirement was the cause, she said.

As recently as a year ago, Taubin still worked 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, taking off Friday to play golf. He arrived at the office at 6 a.m. to review charts and call patients, and began appointments an hour later.

“It didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining,” Taubin said. He was there.

He accepted all insurance to be accessible to his patients, Weltmann said. Gross echoed that Taubin was particularly committed to inclusivity, treating celebrities and the jobless with the same standard of care.

Dr. Joel Taubin with his grandchildren and wife on Oct. 15, the official date of his retirement. From left: Taubin, Blake Weltmann, Nicole Weltmann, Mila Taubin, and Joel Taubin’s wife, Sonya. Taubin’s final appointment as a doctor was with his three grandchildren. (submitted photo)

Masresha Demedmeke, whose whole family sees Taubin, said if she ever couldn’t afford the fee at that time, he would give her time to pay.

Along with running his own practice, Taubin previously served as the referring doctor for The Washington Post and the medical adviser for National Geographic.

Each Wednesday for the past 33 years, he went to the National Geographic office in Washington D.C., to advise explorers on what immunizations they needed before traversing the globe. While they were on assignment, he spoke to them via satellite phone.

At Saturday’s celebration for Taubin’s retirement, DeMaurice Smith, director of the NFL Players Association, showed up with a Washington Football Team jersey with Taubin’s name across the back.

Calvin Snowden, a former pro football player and a patient of Taubin’s, said that at appointments, the two would talk for so long that Weltmann would come into her father’s office and stop them so he could see the next patient.

“He’s a person of the sun — he cares about others, he improves the quality of life of others,” Snowden said. “He was the gatekeeper of my health.”

A sign of support during the drive-by celebration for Dr. Joel Taubin (submitted photo)

Taubin wanted to know his patients as people, as more than their ailments, Weltmann said. 

“I lost my wife two and a half years ago, and I came in for my annual physical and we talked more about her than we did about me,” patient Dan Akerson said. “That’s the kind of guy Joel is.”

Taubin has known grief himself, Akerson said, having lost his son, Gregory, to illness at age 11. In 1979, Gregory died of Reye’s syndrome after contracting chickenpox. The disease can strike after children and young adults catch another virus and take aspirin. 

After the tragedy, Taubin testified to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. He was partially responsible for warnings about the condition being placed on aspirin bottles.

“It’s a really heroic story because through his heartbreak, he was able to benefit others and avoid further heartbreaks in other families losing children,” Akerson said.