So many doctors enter the medical profession on the heels of their parents. James Metrailer, though, wasn’t a doctor’s boy. No, he said, “I was a paper boy.”
Metrailer said he grew up on Polk Street by Holy Souls Catholic Church, where he attended school. He went to Catholic High School and the University of Arkansas.
Metrailer worked at St. Vincent Infirmary before he ever dreamed of being a doctor. It was a paper route promotion, a job delivering inside the hospital and out of the weather. He impressed the folks at the hospital enough that they later asked him to work in the business office, which he did. In college, he worked in what he laughingly termed the “food service industry.” Metrailer studied engineering the first two years in college. Then his sister’s husband, a physician, “piqued my interest” in medicine, Metrailer said. He went to medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and became an internist.
But Metrailer decided he could spend more time with his wife and four children as a specialist, and hauled the family to Dallas, where he did a fellowship in gastroenterology.
Why gastroenterology? That’s the question, Metrailer said, his patients ask “right before you give them the medicine to do their colonoscopy.”
“There are a lot of cute answers,” he said, but the real one is that technology — GI endoscopes and scans —can pinpoint problems to arrive at an accurate diagnosis more so than other areas of medicine. Better diagnoses lead to better treatment.
In 2000, television anchor Katie Couric, who’d lost her husband to colorectal cancer, aired her own colonoscopy on “The Today Show” to make the point that early, pre-symptomatic detection of the disease is life-saving. The so-called “Katie Couric Effect” — which has persuaded people in greater numbers to be screened — has helped lower the incidence of colorectal cancer in the United States. “If you look at cancers across the board,” Metrailer said, “the death rate has gone down, but not a great deal. If you look at colon cancer specifically it has gone down.” thanks to a greater awareness of its curability. “Every gastroenterologist in town can tell you stories of people who came in for screening and had cancer and the doctor was able to treat them successfully.”
Metrailer likes something else about his job: Meeting people. “Patients teach you a lot about life,” he said.
“How they face adversity. How they handle their joys and sadnesses — the human condition.”