Medicine: Have You Hugged Your Doctor Today?

High-octane physician Mike Cirigliano is putting the care back in primary care — and maybe revolutionizing the health system while he’s at it

Performing was Cirigliano’s first love. He’s the only son of a barber and a high-school secretary, and his fingers teased notes from a trumpet long before they ever tore off a prescription. His father, raised in an orphanage, didn’t really have a family until he created his own. So when the Vietnam war broke out, he pressed the shiny instrument into his son’s hands, in the hope that if his only child was ever called to serve, it would be by entertaining his fellow soldiers rather than by fighting.

As with most everything, Cirigliano was good at the trumpet. School performances and halftime shows at Sun Valley High School in Aston eventually led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in music at West Chester; he was certain he’d build a career on the stage. A steady flow of band gigs like 82nd Airborne reunions fulfilled his need to perform, but they also kept him from having the kind of social life he coveted. “I felt as if I had served in World War II,” he quips. “There were no young people to be seen. So I complained to my dad that I wasn’t meeting women, and he said, ‘Go to a hospital and meet people with real problems.’” Cirigliano began volunteering a few hours a week at Riddle Memorial Hospital’s ER in Media.

The fast-paced, electric atmosphere of the hospital quickly drew him in. “Back then, they had these docs moonlighting from different teaching hospitals — Penn, Temple, Jefferson — and I got to see all kinds of wild stuff. They’d say stuff like” — he pauses, and his eyes grow an inch wider as he leans forward to re-enact the scene — “‘GO TO THE CLOSET AND GET A CATHETER!’ And I would run and get a catheter. And that was it.”

Cirigliano was hooked on medicine. He eventually landed in med school at Penn, where, hungry to connect with patients, he gravitated toward primary care. In the decade that followed, he built a strong practice at Penn Internal Medicine Associates, with patients mesmerized by his attitude and bedside manner.

“I go into the office and I hug him — I mean, how many people hug their doctor?” says Ken Zekavat, president of New Jersey’s Zekavat Investment Group, who used to wait up to an hour and half to see Cirigliano. “I was willing to wait because he’s at the top of his game, he has great bedside manner, and he really cares.”