Inside Jimmy's Reception Area

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media , December 13, 2012
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This article appears in the December 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

In the small, southern Louisiana town of New Iberia, primary care physician James Scelfo, MD, and his seven brothers and sisters grew up with a lot of pets. His parents were teachers without much money, so a dog, some ducks, rabbits, and even a squirrel served as substitutes for toys. But it was a baby alligator he called Al that captured his affection. Though Al had to return to the swamp after three years (on the advice of a local veterinarian), Scelfo, now a primary care doctor near Orlando, Fla., still has gators for pets—four foot-long juveniles, to be exact. And he keeps them in a 75-gallon glass tank in the reception area of his office. Alligator handlers from Gatorland, a local theme park, take care of the gators as part of an educational program in the area.

On what patients think of the gators: We practice concierge medicine, so we spend a lot of time with patients. I don't have any appointments scheduled for less than 30 minutes. A big part of what we do is try to get beyond the typical doctor-patient relationship. Letting the patients get to know me helps develop that trust, and they know me as a country boy. So most of my patients look at the gators, then look at me, and say, "Only you, Jimmy, only you would have gators in your office."

On his first try to have a pet gator as an adult: My brother was going to Louisiana, and he was going to be out in the swamp. We talked about him getting a baby alligator and bringing it back for me as a pet. I went home very excited, and my wife, who was pregnant with our first child at the time, said, "Are you crazy? No, we're not having an alligator."

On naming the gators: We have a flu shot party every year and invite all our patients to get flu shots. This year, we're going to put out a ballot box at the party so the patients can name the gators. We do have the option of keeping four gators and having one changed out every year, as it gets bigger and keeping the other three, or having one bigger gator. Whatever we do, we'll keep the names the same. It's too hard saying good-bye.

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This article appears in the December 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Jacqueline Fellows is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.




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