Mourning the Loss of Dr. Joan Casey, Beloved Mentor and Renowned Infectious Diseases Expert

With the passing on May 19, 2019 of Joan Iris Casey, MD, Professor Emerita of Medicine, Montefiore Einstein lost an illustrious member of its community. “Joan was a towering figure in the Division of Infectious Diseases, of which she was a founding member, and the Department of Medicine,” said Liise-anne Pirofski, MD, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Joan Casey
Joan Casey

A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dr. Casey worked after college as a laboratory technician, which sparked her interest in medicine. She earned an MSc in virology, went on to attend and graduate from Dalhousie University Medical School in Halifax in 1966, and became the first woman chief resident on the Harvard Medical Unit of Boston City Hospital. It was there that she met Neal Steigbigel, MD, when they were both infectious diseases fellows. During summer breaks Dr. Casey spent four months in Emmekuku, Owerri, Nigeria, working as a volunteer in a small hospital. By 1971, Dr. Steigbigel had become founding Head of Infectious Diseases at Montefiore Medical Center and recruited her as Associate Head of Infectious Diseases and as Assistant Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) at Einstein. Her research centered on infections associated with diabetes, particularly Group B streptococcal infections in diabetics. Her research led to numerous journal articles, among them a significant paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1977 that she co-authored titled “Association of Streptococcus bovis with carcinoma of the colon.” Said Ira Leviton, MD, who interned in the department starting in 1984 and is now Associate Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), “About one-third of patients with Strep bovis will also have colon cancer, and this study was the first to show that link.” In 1982 she became one of only a handful of women in the United States with a full medicine professorship. Rising to Vice Chair in the Division of Infectious Diseases, she was a recognized authority in her field and a media consultant during the 1987 outbreak of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the Bronx.

At Montefiore Einstein, Dr. Casey was a beloved educator. “Her contributions were special as an excellent clinician and teacher, but particularly as an outstanding role model of unwavering integrity,” said Dr. Steigbigel, now at NYU School of Medicine and a Visiting Professor of Medicine at Einstein.  “She had a very special ability to promote the strengths and sense of self-worth of those with whom she interacted.” In 1988, her students nominated her for the Samuel M. Rosen award for outstanding clinical teaching. In 1990, James Scheuer, MD, Chairman of Medicine for Einstein and Montefiore, appointed her Vice Chair and Residency Director for the West Campus (Montefiore). “In her role as residency director she trained hundreds of house officers, and was highly respected as a rigorous but fair leader,” said Dr. Scheuer, who was Chief of Cardiology before becoming Chairman of Medicine during Dr. Casey’s time at Montefiore. Added Dr. Pirofski, “She mentored, advised, and took care of hundreds of trainees and her fellow faculty and colleagues. She imparted her wisdom, knowledge, and quest for excellence with a firm yet exceptionally caring and nurturing style that shaped the careers of so many of the current infectious diseases faculty and others who are now near and far. I would not be where I am today without having been mentored and trained by Joan, and I know the same is true of countless colleagues in the field of infectious diseases and internal medicine.”

From 1993 to 1997 Dr. Casey served as Assistant Dean for Students at Montefiore. Along with Gerald Paccione, MD, Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine), she developed the “firm” system of resident grouping that is still in place today.

In 1998, the faculty recommended Dr. Casey for the Harry Gordon award for clinical teaching and honored her again in 2004, this time with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching. And in 2007, she was a Physician Honoree at the Celebrate Montefiore gala at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Throughout her career, she was frequently listed among the top hundred doctors in the United States.

A woman of uncommon vitality, Dr. Casey enjoyed cultural events, held season tickets at Yankee Stadium for more than 40 years, and was known for her love of dogs. The years did not slow her down: She sailed and skied into her 70s, and on September 11, 2001, at 74 years of age, she was on the ground at Ground Zero delivering care to victims of the terror attack.

Dr. Casey spent the last 10 years of her life in her native Halifax. Einstein awarded her emerita status in 2017. Donations in her memory may go to Alzheimer’s research or the ASPCA.