Book Review: GI Joe The Life and Career of Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner

Title: GI Joe The Life and Career of Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner

Author: James L. Franklin , M.D.

Publisher: The University of Chicago Section of Gastroenterology 

ISBN- 13: 978-0-615-22605-7 (cloth)

ISBN – 10: 0-615-22605-1 (cloth)


This is an incredibly well researched, informative, thoughtful, and entertaining history of one man’s monumental contributions to medicine. You don’t need to be a member of the medical field to appreciate the rich story of service and compassion to others told within these pages.

Author James L. Franklin chronicles Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner’s life from his early beginnings in Boston in the early 1900’s as the son of Russian immigrants through his career as a distinguished medical expert in the field of Gastroenterology which includes having King Hussan II of Morocco as one of his more famous patients.

Taking the advice to heart on his first day of work in Chicago, 1935 that “We expect you to take care of patients and to teach medical students, but unless you do credible and excellent research, do not expect to remain here”, Kirsner has continued to combine research along with patient care. 

From his first research patient Edwin Rice, who allowed him to perform simple laboratory tests to his co-founding the Gastroenterology Research Foundation (GIRF)  a lay organization dedicated to advancing the cause of digestive disease research, Kirsner has always recognized the need for research as a necessary accompaniment to the advancement of patient care.

An outstanding role model of how to compassionately treat patients, Kirsner epitomizes and stresses the traits he incorporates into his teaching methods and his behavior in everyday life. These include: 

1)      The application of dedicated and sustained hard work. This includes the need for continued education and study.

2)      Optimism – always striving to give patients a sense of hope.

3)      Placing the patient firs.

4)      Maintaining a professional manner, dressing in a clean and neat attire, and displaying a seriousness of purpose.

Franklin does a first class job of carefully and meticulously researching and documenting event after event of Kirsner’s life which led to his becoming one of the founders of Gastroenterology as well as one of the most respected physicians in his field and in the United States. A fascinating account from which we can all learn a few lessons about how to live a life devoted to the betterment of others.

GI Joe not only documents Kirsner’s life but also provides a fascinating history on the development of medicine in the United States and the emergence of Gastroenterology as a recognized field.

James L. Franklin, M.D., received his training in Gastroenterology at the University of Chicago and practiced gastroenterology as a faculty member of Rush University Medical School in Chicago. He is the president  of the Chicago Society for the History of Medicine  and the Humanities, a member of the Chicago Literary Club, and a devoted amateur musician.

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