Pioneering internist is still outworking peers at age 80

Edith Irby Jones, MACP.


Edith Irby Jones, MACP

Occupation: Solo practitioner, internal medicine and geriatrics

Dr Irby Jones Being a physician consumes my whole being
Dr. Irby Jones: “Being a physician consumes my whole being.”

Age: 80

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Hot Springs, Ark.

Medical school: University of Arkansas, of which she was the first black graduate

Residency: Baylor College of Medicine, where she was the first black resident in internal medicine

First job: When I was eight years old, I was a babysitter for a physician who had a son who was 18 months old. My mother had been working as a maid for the family and she became ill and could not work. In order to have my mother to continue to have an income, they allowed me to come in and babysit the little boy. As a result of my contact with the doctor, I saw how much joy he seemed to have gotten out of serving. I decided at that time that I was going to be a physician.

Why I became an internist: I like to interact with the patient as a whole with their surroundings, and to address everything that affects the patient's well-being.

Most rewarding aspect of my job: To have whole families affected by the manner in which I treat patients and to see the heads of households go back and take care of families as a result of my relationship with them.

Most meaningful professional accomplishment: Being part of the ACP. That for me is an accomplishment, in particular for the ACP having been so kind to me. [Dr. Jones has received both the national ACP and the Texas Chapter's Volunteerism and Community Service Award, as well as its Laureate Award.]

Highlight of College involvement: Robert Irby Wise, MD, now about 100 years old, white, had been very active with the ACP. I met him the night I received the fellowship, because my name is Irby. We found out through a genealogy search that his family was the slaveowners of my family. I went to see him and his wife and found out more about my family than I'd ever known, and I've never seen so much wealth in all my life. He's such a wonderful person that we have kept this relationship going and it truly does seem like a family.

Future goals: To continue to serve and to continue to inspire young people, even before they decide what career they're going to follow.

Favorite ways to spend free time: I'm an organization person and I'm a social person. I belong to many social clubs that have different charitable parts aimed at different things, like education. I'm not much at teaching children to read and write but I encourage those who do. I frequently set up my office as a place in which they can tutor children on the weekends when we're not actually seeing patients.

Biggest challenges faced: I don't know whether I've had any challenges. It's been almost a straight path for me. I decided when I was eight years old [to be a doctor]. I went to school and made grades so that I was advanced. I went to college with no money and received scholarships and worked. I was accepted at practically all the medical schools I applied and University of Arkansas, being the least expensive and in my home state, I accepted and found out that I was the first black to be accepted. That didn't influence me because I wanted to go to medical school and I wanted to be a doctor.

Most surprising thing about me: My colleagues say that I'm 80 years old, that I weigh less than 105 pounds, that I continue to outwork them and not complain. I think I have great stamina or endurance.

If I weren't a physician: I guess I could do almost anything if I tried, but I can't imagine doing anything else. Being a physician consumes my whole being.

Philosophy: I would like for everyone to have the same feeling that I have, that it's a good world, that people are kind and people are wonderful and I've never found a situation in which they were not.

What others say: “She is a courageous pioneer. She undertakes to do things no one else has done. These are things that benefit society a great deal and she's been a wonderful mentor for medical students, particularly minority medical students. She was very much of a groundbreaker but she never made a very big thing of it.” — Edward C. Lynch, MACP, who first met Dr. Jones in 1962.