The doctor will see you now

I sometimes feel I spent half my life in classrooms,” says Joseph Ciabattoni, Ph.D., M.D.


It’s not exactly true, but starting from kindergarten, Dr. Ciabattoni spent 29 consecutive years in schools, including five universities – four as a student and one as a teacher. The Warren, Ohio, native began his college career at John Carroll, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1962 with a B.S. in chemistry.

Taking advice from JCU’s then-director of the chemistry department, Richard J. Gaul, Ph.D., an M.I.T. graduate, Dr. Ciabattoni attended M.I.T. Then, after serving as an assistant professor of organic chemistry at Brown University in Providence, R.I., for five years, and associate professor, with tenure, for three more years, he was awarded a Senior Fulbright-Hays Scholarship at the University of Padova in Italy for the 1972-73 academic year.

By then, Dr. Ciabattoni needed a change. So he decided to switch careers and do something more satisfying. Really? After only 26 consecutive years in school?

“I believed medicine would provide me with a profession that would be more fulfilling,” he says.

Dr. Ciabattoni might have chosen rocket science, except that career blew up in his face. Well, not exactly.

“I always wanted to be a scientist and study chemistry,” he says. “As a kid, I had a chemistry set.”

As a teenager, during the Russian Sputnik era, Dr. Ciabattoni created fuel for a three-foot rocket he and a friend built.

“I probably read about how to do it and mixed the ingredients to make the fuel,” he says. “We took it out to a large, open field and wired the rocket launcher to a car battery. From a distance, we ignited the rocket. It exploded on the pad into a million pieces. That was my experience as a rocket scientist.”

Changing careers, after teaching at Brown, meant Dr. Ciabattoni still wasn’t quite finished with higher education. He attended Yale University, from which he received an M.D. in 1976. He began a residency in internal medicine at Rhode Island Hospital in 1976, becoming board-certified in 1979. From then on, he practiced internal medicine in North Providence until he retired in 2007.

But retirement didn’t seem to work out. He became bored and needed a project. Sure. After all, who wants to just live on the waterfront in Jamestown – an island off of Newport on Naraganset Bay – with your own boat and dock, and fish all the time?

Dr. Ciabattoni and his wife catch flounder, striped bass, sea bass, bluefish, and tautog, also known as blackfish, and they dig for quahogs (clams). They eat all that seafood, too. He fillets them, and his wife prepares them. One can imagine when Dr. Ciabattoni fillets the fish, he dons his surgical garb and gloves, and has his wife hand him his instruments, for old-time’s sake.

“No, but I wear a metal-mesh glove,” he says, acknowledging he injured himself during a filleting session.

The Ciabattonis also enjoy traveling, especially to Italy and the Caribbean. Despite that, he still felt a need to work more. He already had been thinking there was a need for a self-help medical guide written in laymen’s terms anyone could understand. So that became his new endeavor, and it lasted for two years.

“It was a difficult project,” he says. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

His book, “Doctor C’s Medical Guide: What You Need to Know,” was published in September 2009.

“Initially, my feeling was that if people needed medical information they could find it on the Internet because it’s so easy to do,” he says. “But I realized there are so many unreliable websites – where the information is undocumented, with no studies to support the claims – that I thought an authoritative and reliable book would be a valuable supplement to the home library.”

“Doctor C’s Medical Guide” is 475 pages, which is a lot of laymen’s terms. The glossary alone contains more than 1,000 medical terms. But even at that length, Dr. Ciabattoni describes the book as relatively small.

“It’s something you can carry in a handbag or carry-on,” he says. “There are other self-care books, but most of them are like encyclopedias. They’re too big.”

The self-published book recently was featured at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus and at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. Available in hardcover, paperback, and in e-book format, including Kindle, Nook, and Sony e-Book, it can be purchased from the John Carroll’s bookstore, major online bookstores such as and, from Ciabattoni’s website, and the order desk at local Barnes and Noble bookstores.

“This book fills a need,” Dr. Ciabattoni says. “One of the major problems in medicine is you can set up future appointments with your physician; but when you’re sick, you can’t get in to see him. You have to wait, or else go to an emergency room – though most of the time, it’s not an emergency. So this tells you what you can or should do until you’re able to see a physician.”

– David Budin

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