About Dr. Jemsek

Who’s Dr. J?

Dr. Joseph Jemsek has offered 50 years of passionate service, cared for tens of thousands of disenfranchised patients, and advanced research and treatment innovations, especially in the areas of HIV/AIDS and tick-borne illnesses (TBIs). Today, Jemsek is one of the world’s foremost specialists treating Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis complex). His practice, the Jemsek Specialty Clinic, in Washington, D.C., welcomes hundreds of new patients every year, from all 50 states and over 40 countries.

A second-generation physician from Illinois, curious about medical mysteries (“It’s just like detective work!”), young Dr. Joe Jemsek became an infectious diseases fellow in 1977. In 1979, Jemsek and his young family resettled in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he began a promising infectious disease practice at the renowned Nalle Clinic. Intrigued by reports of a “gay cancer,” Joe’s “detective” instincts led him to diagnose North Carolina’s first case of what would soon be known as HIV/AIDS. As the years went by, he grew absorbed by the AIDS epidemic, bearing witness to some of its most dire casualties — losing patient after patient to opportunistic infections — as well as to the first signs of hope with the advent of life-saving drugs in 1995.

A grueling decade caring for disenfranchised HIV/AIDS patients transformed Dr. Jemsek from a “know-it-all homophobe” into a hug-loving, beloved physician. With the AIDS “killing fields” behind him, in 2000, Jemsek opened his eponymous clinic, anticipating an easeful career thereon. But within months, the Jemsek Clinic began seeing an inflow of patients looking for help with puzzling chronic symptoms of Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness. Jemsek thought, “I can treat anything!” but his confidence dwindled as he realized how devilishly complex Lyme was, how devastating its effects, and how inadequate the standard of care. By 2001, the Jemsek Clinic had become a destination practice for tick-borne illnesses and Jemsek had set out to develop an effective protocol against those “wicked” infections.

For over two decades, Dr. Jemsek has pushed the boundaries of medicine in search of answers for Lyme disease patients and, along the way, challenged his own knowledge of medicine, clashed with colleagues and academics, battled policymakers, and faced up to Medicine Inc. In the midst of it all, Dr. Jemsek has continued his fight for the privilege to crack open the Lyme mystery.

Dr. Jemsek

Joseph G. Jemsek, MD, FACP, AAHIVS

Jemsek received his medical degree from the University of Illinois Medical Center (1974) and completed his infectious disease fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine, TX (1979). He began his practice at the Nalle Clinic, Charlotte, NC (1979–2000). He served as medical director of the Clinical Research Department at the Nalle Clinic (1991–96) and as founding chairman of the Antibiotic Committee at Carolinas Medical Center (1983–93). In 1998, Jemsek received the North Carolina Governor’s Certificate of Appreciation for his HIV/AIDS work. He is founder of the Jemsek Specialty Clinic in Washington, D.C., a Lyme-specialized clinic welcoming patients from 50 states and over 40 countries. Since 2000, Jemsek has evaluated over 15,000 cases of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases and introduced dozens of pioneering innovations in their treatment.

Dr. Jemsek’s Charitable Work

The Jemsek Charm Project (2003–2008)

The first charitable organization in the Carolinas devoted to caring for the HIV/AIDS community, the Jemsek Charm Project provided medical and social services to HIV/AIDS patients and prevention education to those at risk of contracting HIV in the Charlotte metropolitan area. The Jemsek Charm Project also provided access to nonmedical services, such as vocational rehabilitation, education, and employment, to support patients in leading functional and fulfilling lives.

The Jemsek Charm Project logo.

The John Jemsek Preceptorship (2005–to date)

In 2005, in memory of Dr. John James Jemsek (1918–1997), Dr. Joseph Jemsek’s father, the Jemsek family, the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Foundation, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, and the college’s Rural Medicine Program established a six-week summer preceptorship program for first-year medical students to provide them with hands-on experience in rural family medicine. The preceptorship has contributed to the formation of more than 20 medical professionals.

Dr. Joseph Jemsek with his father, Dr. John Jemsek, circa 1990.
Dr. Joseph Jemsek with his father, Dr. John Jemsek, circa 1990.
Sailing on Arborway

In the 1990s, Dr. Jemsek taught himself to play piano as a way to cope with the stress and despair caused by the constant loss of his patients. Those were the “killing fields” years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic: before life-saving drugs, the disease was a death sentence. “Music helped me stay sane, learning the piano resurrected my soul,” Jemsek says in his memoir. He went on to record a solo piano album, Sailing on Arborway, and dedicated it to his HIV/AIDS patients.

Dr. Jemsek playing piano, circa 2010.
Dr. Jemsek playing piano, circa 2010.
Dr. Jemsek’s Accolades & Recognitions

North Carolina Certificate of Appreciation, the highest civilian award in the state, bestowed solely on a merit basis, awarded by Governor James B. Hunt to Dr. Jemsek for his work on HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Jemsek with North Carolina governor James B. Hunt, 1998.
Dr. Jemsek with North Carolina governor James B. Hunt, 1998.

House of Mercy (Belmont Abbey, NC) “Thanks for Giving Ball” honoring Dr. Joseph G. Jemsek. From the event invitation: “Dr. Joseph G. Jemsek…contributed to the development of many of the new therapies now available for AIDS treatment.…Dr. Jemsek also continues to work to dispel the myths and social stigma surrounding this disease. In addition to his medical skills, Dr. Jemsek has used his musical talents in the fight against AIDS by recording piano solo tapes and donating the sale proceeds to the House of Mercy.”


LivLyme conference Lyme Warriors appreciation plaque: “We appreciate your dedication and commitment to the Lyme and Tick-Borne community. Thank you for believing in the process of healing and helping restore our strength, hope, and well-being.”


International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) appreciation plaque, “Presented to Dr. Joseph G. Jemsek for his contribution to the 2012 ILADS conference as speaker in the Scientific Session.”