My Most Inspirational Professor — Janitor Joe

Curated with subscription from iStock

I was a med student rotating through County Hospital on the poor side of town. After staying up all night on-call, I’d still try my best to get to the cafeteria just before it opened at 6 a.m.

Through the mesh partition, I could watch the lone janitor at work. I called him Professor Joe. I never got to meet him. He always disappeared just before the gate rolled up.

I enjoyed watching Prof. Joe wipe cleaning every cheap scratched-up Formica tabletop with overlapping circles, digging into the edges to get the grime out, scrapping off every little patch of dried-up spill with his fingernails.

As if polishing vintage Ferraris, all dozens of them in the fluorescence lit chow hall.

He also wiped down every one of the twelve chairs at each table with the same meticulous diligence. They were those typical metal-framed plastic stackable chairs of random assorted colors in various degrees of disrepair. He lined them up around each table with the precision of computer graphics. Backing up, squatting down, squinting one eye and tilting his head for perfect alignment.

As if setting up a royal banquet in Buckingham Palace.

If there was time before opening, he would walk around to inspect his honor guards, straightening out any minute irregularities before marching off with his head held high and a faint smile.

All the while, knowing that in a matter of minutes, the whole trailer park would be turned back into a national disaster area after the morning hurricane blew through.

And he would do it all over again the next morning.

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance,
but it is important that you do it.”
— Gandhi

I had many great professors, some of them Nobel Prize winners. Without a word, Professor Joe taught me all I needed to know to care for my patients, honor my work, and respect myself.

I knew then if I could be like him, I would be one hell of a healer and a mighty solid person.


Tak C. Poon, MD, PharmD, ABHIM, FACC, Preventive Cardiologist, now developer of a non-profit wellness blog and a lifestyle habit-forming app at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store



TAK POON, MD, PharmD, ABIHM, FACC, U.S. Preventive Cardiologist, now developer of a nonprofit wellness blog and a lifestyle habit-forming app at