Inspired by his pediatrician, Dr. Donovan found his calling in cardiology

A conversation with James P. Donovan, M.D., about the path that brought him to cardiology and his life outside of work

James P. Donovan, M.D., is a cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists.

Tell me about the first memory, academic or otherwise, that comes to mind when you think about medical school.

Growing up, I had always been on summer vacation on my birthday, which is in August. But medical school started early, so I was in class on my birthday for the very first time in my life. That was kind of a wake-up call or a welcoming to adulthood — the fun was over and life had begun.

Since that time, however, I have not worked on my birthday. After I finished my cardiology fellowship, I’ve taken my birthday off every single year as a vacation day.

What do you do on that day off each year?

It’s kind of dedicated to food, I suppose. I will hit a breakfast place with my wife and maybe my children, then one of my favorite lunch places and then a favorite dinner joint.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Louisville?

My favorite restaurant in Louisville is El Mundo. We probably eat there at least twice a week.

Let’s circle back to medical school, and specifically, why you chose your specialty.

When I started medical school, I really wasn’t sure what kind of physician I wanted to be. I thought about pediatrics, radiology, obstetrics — but then I settled on internal medicine. That presented so many options for specialties. I did a couple cardiology rotations and decided I really liked it.

Was there a moment when you knew practicing medicine was your calling?

I always wanted to be a physician, for as long as I can remember.

I had a really good relationship with our pediatrician growing up, Dr. Nicholas Glaser. I always liked his bedside manner, and I think he was the guy who inspired me to be a physician. He had a really dry sense of humor, and he was extremely dedicated. I remember I had strep throat one night. My mother called the office after hours, and he was still there and said come on over. It was 8 or 9 o’clock at night, and he was still there doing his thing. He was a nice role model.

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Outside of practicing medicine, what is your passion?

I like to play tennis. I play at a 4.5 U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) level. I played in USTA leagues for 15 or 20 years. I also like John Hughes movies. My favorite is probably “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but I like “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles,” too. That guy really captured the 1980s, which is the time I was in high school and college.

You mention your pediatrician’s sense of humor. Can you tell me about a time when you made someone in your life laugh?

I’m not much of a comedian, but one instance that comes to mind was at a Mexican restaurant with my family. I decided I was going to impersonate one of our neighbor’s children, whom I had seen doing something silly. I stood up next to the table and kind of did this jig with my arms flopping around. The restaurant was pretty empty, and I thought I was just doing this show for my two children and my wife, but it turns out the entire wait staff was watching. My children thought it was particularly funny after they saw the wait staff all laughing at me.

How old are your children?

They are 22 and 19. Our daughter lives in New York, she’s a writer; and our son is in college. We are kind of empty nesters, at least most of the year, now.

Tell me about a wonderful interaction you’ve had with a patient or family.

I saw a guy just this morning who was convinced he needed surgery. I was able to tell him that in my opinion he didn’t need surgery, so he walked away the happiest guy in the world. Those types of conversations are nice to have.

Are there any patients with whom you’ve remained in touch, even after they no longer needed your care?

I have one patient who became a really good friend. After a couple of years, we figured out that we both enjoyed pheasant hunting, so he invited me to South Dakota where his brother has some property and is also a hunter. That turned into an annual trip.

What do you listen to in the car on the way home?

One of two things: either WFPK 91.9, if I want to hear music. If I want to hear news, it’s WHAS 840. I like Tony Cruise and the morning crew, and I listen to Terry Meiners on my way home a lot.

Is there something about you that your patients or colleagues might be surprised to learn?

I like to collect and consume (in moderation) beer and certain kinds of wines, mostly cabernets. My favorite local brewery is Against the Grain — I like their IPAs. Another beer that I really like is called Zombie Dust from Munster, Indiana. It’s kind of a rarity.

What’s your No. 1 health tip for anyone reading this?

It’s a multipronged answer: Exercise routinely, eat a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and relatively low in carbohydrates, and try to stay close to your ideal body weight. If people do these simple things, their overall health will be far better.

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