Published on June 28, 2022

A Jammin’ Legacy

Peter Wolk, M.D.

Peter Wolk, M.D., has always been a realist. Despite being a musician at heart, Wolk knew becoming the next Mick Jagger wasn’t his destiny. Instead, he built a career as a highly esteemed cardiologist.

But the elements of music and performing have carried him throughout his path in medicine.

“A lot of being a doctor is being on stage. You got to make the 10 minutes you have with that patient the most important 10 minutes of your day for them,” Wolk said. “Good doctors know how to make their patients feel really comfortable in a few minutes.”

“A lot of being a doctor is being on stage. You got to make the 10 minutes you have with that patient the most important 10 minutes of your day for them.”

Wolk, 72, was recently named the 2021 winner of the Physician Legacy Award, an honor that recognizes physicians whose body of work in and out of the profession has created a lasting impact. He has been practicing cardiology since the early 1980s.

“Dr. Wolk is a dedicated, exceptional clinician, who always puts his patients first. He advanced regional cardiology care when he introduced balloon angioplasty to Enloe for treating occluded heart arteries,” said Marcia Nelson, M.D., Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer. “Despite his very busy clinical schedule, he serves his colleagues with integrity as an elected physician leader.”

Originally from New York, Wolk has now been caring for patients in Chico for 39 years. But venturing into medicine wasn’t the typical journey.

A Health Scare

A bout with tuberculosis served as Wolk’s introduction to health care. At 10 years old, a routine physical revealed a “big tuberculi” sitting in Wolk’s chest.

Most children might shy away from the hospital, but not Wolk. Undergoing treatment only meant there was an incentive involved — getting a puppy.

“I haven’t been without a dog ever since,” he added.

Wolk underwent a successful operation for the infection to be removed.

“I had a bit of respect for the health care world (after the operation),” he said.

First Passion

Wolk wasn’t immediately drawn to medicine. He was originally an English major, but took science classes for fun.

“I just love learning,” Wolk said. “I was not a typical science brainiac.”

Wolk was captured by music at a very early age. He played piano in grade school, and by sixth grade he was in a band.

“I’m playing music all the time in the cath lab … I concentrate best with music going on in the background.”

He’d spend his free time getting lost in The Beatles, singing along to their albums and harmonizing to the washing machine in his basement when he was 15 years old.

In Chico, he was part of the Ammin City Jammin Band, a group that featured other health care professionals. They even opened for Kenny Loggins at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

“We had a lot of fun and a lot of good memories,” Wolk said.

As a cardiologist, Wolk relies on music daily. He can often be heard humming through the hallways as he makes his rounds in the hospital.

It’s not unusual to hear Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Dire Straits or other classic rock staples blaring from the cath lab.

“I’m playing music all the time in the cath lab … I concentrate best with music going on in the background,” he said.

A Serendipitous Journey

Wolk grew up in Long Island, earning his medical degree from SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in New York.

Wolk attended the University of Michigan for his bachelor’s degree. He even spent a season playing on the Wolverines basketball team.

“When you get to be older and experienced, to be able to do that with somebody else, you’re fulfilled and it’s come full circle. That’s a very satisfying part of the job.”

He decided to take a year-long break and traveled to the West Coast with his dog. He visited several universities and programs in search of another residency.

After the trip, he came back to his home — a tiny, stone cottage near a frozen lake — in northern Michigan.

“I’m in the shower. And it’s cold outside,” Wolk recalled.

The phone rang.

On the other line was the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, calling to see if Wolk had any interest in joining its residency program. A sudden spot opened up in the program after an untimely death, and officials had his contact information from his visit a few weeks prior.

UCSF had a list of 12 people to reach out to, and Wolk was fifth on the list.

“I asked, ‘What happened to the first four?’ and she said, ‘We tried to call them, but they didn’t answer,’” Wolk recalled.

Wolk’s journey to San Francisco led him to the West Coast and eventually to Chico, where he brought the balloon coronary angioplasty procedure to Enloe.

“That’s why I’m a believer in serendipity. I try to tell my kids that life’s not a straight line,” Wolk said. “You’ve got to keep your eyes open for opportunity whether it’s luck or whether it’s something you choose.”

Coming Full Circle

For Wolk, life has come full circle. He always enjoyed learning. Now, he’s the veteran passing on valued knowledge.

“When you get to be older and experienced, to be able to do that with somebody else, you’re fulfilled and it’s come full circle,” Wolk said. “That’s a very satisfying part of the job.”