Dr. John Graham-Pole hangs up his stethoscope but hangs on to his clown nose

Pediatric oncologist and professor retired in May after more than 25 years with the UF College of Medicine.

There exists a doctor who believes in both the arts and the sciences working together to make the world a better place.

His name is Dr. John Graham-Pole.

Graham-Pole, a pediatric oncologist and professor, retired in May after more than 25 years with the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

On March 5, at the Health Professions, Nursing, and Pharmacy Building auditorium, the Center for Spirituality and Health sponsored an event in honor of Graham-Pole’s retirement.

The center regularly offers lectures and speeches given by professionals who are tapped into the therapeutic effects of spirituality and the arts within the technical world of science and medicine. No doctor follows that philosophy better than Graham-Pole.

In addition to treating thousands of young cancer patients over the last two and a half decades, he is credited with co-founding the Arts in Medicine program at Shands at the University of Florida, where levity and the creative arts are protocols as much as radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.

Humor for the Health of It

Graham-Pole entertained his audience during the March gathering by reading a sampling of his poetry and offering a brief history of his life and career. He began by displaying a whimsical mask that was inscribed with a message in Italian. When he translated the message, it read that disease and sadness will be exorcised with laughter.

This is how Graham-Pole practices medicine.

One of Graham-Pole’s colleagues is Allen H. Neims, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics, who also served as dean of the College of Medicine from 1989 to 1996 and is the current director of the Center for Spirituality and Health.

“He (Graham-Pole) has held a place for the playful side of medicine over the years,” Neims said. “In a field where the people are highly scientific and quantitative in their work, John is a physician with credibility who advocates the humanistic approach to medicine more than anyone else.”

Graham-Pole is a doctor who wears colorful socks that never match, sports the occasional fake red nose of a clown and passes out “yucky” third eyes to his patients instead of candy.

Staying true to his playful reputation, Graham-Pole can turn the dark topic of death into a joke.

“Despite all of our biomedical research, our death rate is still one per person,” Graham-Pole quipped.

In addition to comedy, Graham-Pole expresses himself through poetry.

“Poetry helps me hold my feelings of grief, sadness, joy and celebration,” Graham-Pole said. “They are all equal.”

He has found that sometimes patients can be their own best cheerleader.

“The patient does the healing and the doctor takes the fee,” Graham-Pole said.

Influencing the Future

Graham-Pole’s dedication to healing patients with a mixture of laughter and medicine has set the stage for future doctors in Gainesville.

“Between qualitative and quantitative, lies the marriage of art and science,” Graham-Pole said. “I’ve tried in a small way to build a bridge.”

Graham-Pole said he plans to volunteer with the Arts in Medicine program as a storyteller and member of the Playback Theater troupe. And of course, he will continue to research the power of art on the human spirit and the human body.

“I’m fascinated by the whole creative force of humans,” he explained. “After all nothing really happens without the creative process. It is the most important aspect of the human being. And I will continue to write, speak, do art in all forms and look at how people around the world do art.”

Karen Dooley contributed to this report.