Q&A with Dr. Elisee Joseph, DBA

By Karen Kawaguchi

Elisee Joseph is a multi-talented individual who says that his profession “varies depending on the time of the day and the day of the week.” He currently serves as a faculty member at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and at Queens College. He is also a medical examiner for Quest Diagnostics and the American Paraprofessional Services (APPS), where he makes routine house calls for clients who are applying for life insurance.

During the pandemic, he has been thinking about the importance fearlessness and resilience in the battle against COVID-19.

You have an interesting, multi-faceted life now. What was your journey to arrive here?

When I was a prospective college student, I wanted to be a pharmacist. After barely passing my chemistry pre-requisite courses, I lost interest in becoming a pharmacist. As an undergraduate, I continued to struggle with natural science courses and failed my introductory biology and physics courses.

Image courtesy of Dr. Joseph

Subsequently, I developed a passion for applied mathematics with a heavy focus in economics. In less than seven years, I was able to obtain my bachelor’s degree in mathematics, an MBA, and Doctorate in Business Administration. 

Since completing my doctorate, I was fortunate to become a member of the faculty at Columbia University and Queens College. In addition, I used my medical skills to complement my teaching endeavors and am now an ally in the pandemic frontlines through my work as a paramedical examiner for Quest Diagnostics and American Para Professional Systems, making house calls for life insurance clients.

How has the pandemic affected you personally?

It has created more time for me to communicate with people and provide an extra source of support. I think it has enhanced my emotional intelligence and compassion for others.

The pandemic has drastically increased my daily responsibilities. I work from 7AM to 6PM, seven days a week. In addition to spearheading my classes to help reduce my students’ stress level, my life insurance house calls have doubled since the start of this crisis.

I love the challenge of helping others despite the adversity of this pandemic.

How has the quality of fearlessness been important in your life?

There is the fear of what you know and a fear of what you don’t know. Being fearless is being eager to wake up every single day and fulfilling the mission of helping others on the frontlines, despite the risk of contracting COVID-19. Fearlessness gives me a reason to keep fighting despite the uncertainties.

The last time I was truly afraid, I was in high school. I was so scared of failing. I would mask this fear of failure by working hard to get good grades. I figured that if I obtained good grades, I would overcome my fear of failure and rejection.

My past rejections have inspired me to be fearless. I recently created a “rejection resume” that highlighted my greatest past failures. After sharing my rejection resume with others, I found that I was not alone, and many people had similar stories. Being transparent and sharing my trials and tribulations have enabled me to become fearless in my endeavors.

It is important to focus on what you can control and to trust yourself. You have the power to shape your environment in ways that allow you to live your best life.

There is a fight or flight element when we face our fears. Fear can be a useful emotion if we can collectively face the invisible monster of COVID-19 and fight together. For those who have fought hard against COVID-19, it’s extremely difficult to bear the inevitable losses alone. But I am confident that we can work together to channel our emotions and continue to fight this virus.

How would you define resilience?

Resilience is finding detours to navigate through failure. Resilience is falling nine times and rising up ten times.

My development of grit is fueled by stories from patients who have overcome cancer or other life-threatening diseases. My uncle displays resiliency every day as he fights cancer and kidney disorders.

My resilience has also been cultivated by failure and rejection. I remember receiving rejection notes from college institutions and other professional organizations. I remember failing my biology, physics, calculus and linear algebra courses. These situations did not derail me from achieving my goals. Instead, I learned to redirect my approach and succeed.

Who is the most resilient person you know?

The most resilient person I know is my mother, Marie Joseph. She is the epitome of a warrior. She is a lab technician and has been a frontliner at the New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital for over 35 years! 

In 1996, I lost my father in a car accident. Since then, my mom has been relentless. What makes her so special is that she worked every single day to provide for the family, with no assistance or handouts.

From 2008 to 2016, she actually had two full-time jobs: the morning shift (7AM to 3PM) at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and the evening shift (4PM to 12AM) at New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

What are some examples of resilience by frontliners or others that you’ve experienced or observed during the pandemic?

I have observed the immediate, ferocious reaction of frontliners who respond to each and every code blue event. They are our unseen heroes.

One of my insurance clients came out of retirement and returned to her post as an emergency room nurse at a leading New York City hospital. She told me recently that after every code blue episode, she would cry during break time. At the end of her breaks, she would wipe away her tears and return to helping patients in the emergency room.

Image by Alexander Popov via Unsplash

How has the pandemic changed or expanded your life goals and your views about what is important?

I’ve learned you can have all the money in the world, but the true appraisal of wealth is derived from having time and good health.

In addition to deepening my compassion for others, this pandemic has expanded my views on the importance of diversifying my skills and has illuminated what it means to be an “essential worker.” Skill diversification can protect people from unforeseeable events like an unemployment notice -- or even worse, a global pandemic. I have shared this perspective with my students at Columbia University and Queens College.

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