Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Joe Pressler

Dr. Joe Pressler spent 16 years at UMMC and here, he talks about some of his favorite people and memories from training. Read more to learn about his background and what he’s up to today.

First tell us about you and your time at UMMC.

Well, I’m a home grown Mississippi physician, which means a lot to us Mississippians and maybe not as much to those outside of our state. But as the saying goes, “if you know, you know”. I grew up in McComb and attended Ole Miss for my undergrad years. Uncertainty in those years had me start out in Biology with a premed intention before transitioning to Psychology with an idea of going to grad school and becoming a clinical psychologist. After cramming my entire major into one summer and my senior year, I once again changed courses and decided to double back to medical school. Four years of medical school followed by three years of internal medicine residency and three years of pulmonary/critical care fellowship all in the same location has made Jackson my default “home” where I’ve now spent a majority of my life. I have three children, the oldest of whom was born three months into my intern year, just weeks after Hurricane Katrina turned an already tumultuous year upside down for us all. All three of my children were born during my training years at UMMC and have grown up in Jackson, currently attending Jackson Academy, where their mother also teaches. I spent just over six years after my training as a faculty member in the Pulmonary/Critical Care Division at UMMC before being recruited by one of my former fellows, Dr. Rachael Faught to practice with her in her hometown of Greenwood, MS.  

Where are you now and what are you doing? 

For just over four years now, I’ve been working at Greenwood Leflore Hospital as a pulmonologist and critical care physician, along with Dr. Faught.  It’s a small Delta town, about the same size as the town in which I was raised. And while the small town feel is the same, and has been very comfortable to me, we all know that, while every small town in Mississippi may have similarities, they are each their own different treasure as well. And it has been a pleasure to learn a lot of this Delta town’s delights. As with anything in life, the more time passes, the more perspective you develop. I can’t help but think that the timing for my move was right and purposeful in His plan, as it allowed me to get my feet wet and comfortable in this small town hospital in time to prepare us all for the past 18 months of the pandemic. Rachael and I set up and maintained the COVID unit at the hospital as its primary physicians throughout the pandemic. It has been an absolute privilege to be able to serve and treat this region of the state alongside Rachael and the others in this medical community through what I hope is the most difficult era in medicine that we will be faced with in our lifetime. 

What do you miss most about UMMC?

In what has got to be the most repetitive answer you receive, it has to be the people. We have such wonderful people that pass through the halls of UMMC – people who all have their own wonderful stories. And the fact that we have each contributed to one another’s stories and built the fabric of that institution is what I love the most. I think one of the things that I miss the most is the amount of difference that you can make at an academic center. One of the things I miss most about UMMC in particular is the witnessing and being a part of the maturation of young adults into doctors and seeing all the steps along the way. For instance, I can still very clearly recall my interview for a residency position with Dr. Vikas Majithia.  I had such insecurities about the process and my chances to match and he calmed my fears and advocated for me after our interview. And whether there is truth in it or not, I have always felt that Vikas “got me” my residency spot.  I spent my three years in residency and grew up as a physician and as a person (some people may dispute that statement) at UMMC with the occasion to round with Vikas as a resident. Three more years as a fellow where I had the opportunity to consult with him on patients. Vikas, as the program director for Rheumatology, was at my Fellows’ Graduation Ceremony and was able to share that moment with me as well. Several years later, I was afforded the opportunity to serve on the Residency Selection Committee alongside Dr. Majithia and advocate for the next wave of physician trainees, who, after several years, I was also able to watch as they learned and grew and blossomed into brilliant and compassionate physicians in their own right. And to experience that growth from a student in awe and with appreciation for a mentor into being considered a colleague, and then to pass that on to the next wave and experience it from the other side was extremely gratifying.  

Share a memory or more of your time here at UMMC.

Too many to even consider, but a few that stand out.  

     – Always trying to outdo the last year in chief resident videos

     – Witnessing certain currently high ranking straight laced and straight faced residency program administrators dress in drag and dance like Beyonce

     – Being an upper level resident on House Medicine and knowing 100%, without a doubt, and with no animosity, that my faculty member had hand-selected my intern and that my intern, in fact, was actually in charge of the team all month.  And we still both look each other in the eyes to this day and laugh about it

     – Boss rounds with Dr. DeShazo

     – Any rounds with Dr. Bennett, the Master Physical Exam Diagnostician and Intimidator

     – Any lectures with Dr. Drieling, the Master Laboratory Diagnostician and Gentleman

     – Any table round with Dr. Files, the Genius and original Papa Joe

     – Any and all time spent with classmates in both residency and fellowship, no matter how grueling the days and nights were, that made us friends for life and shaped us into the physicians we are now

     – Trying to “win the game” on VA House Medicine

     – Chappy Pinkston’s wit and knowledge at the VA

     – Yinka Ajalabi’s threats to break every resident’s knee caps in deep voice and Nigerian accent

     – All the stories that we share amongst our fellow residents and fellows that dare not be spoken aloud or written

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