Gastroenterologist Dr. Eddie Irions practices modern medicine in classic style
WRITTEN BY Stephanie Hunt
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Scott Henderson
Dr. Eddie Irions may just have the best view in town. From his courtyard, the iconic steeple of St. Philips Church is framed by lush banana trees and old brick detail atop a stucco garden wall. It’s a postcard-perfect setting: welcoming and stylish—quintessentially Charleston. Also, quintessentially Irions.
The Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated gastroenterologist flashes his high-wattage smile, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s his warm affability or his always dapper dress (well, when not in scrubs) that makes him seem right at home in our well-mannered city. Dr. Irions moved to Charleston in 2010, after nearly a decade in New York City, to pursue a fellowship in advanced endoscopy at MUSC and never left. “I love this city—it is filled with wonderful people, not to mention stunning architecture, arts, culture and incredible restaurants,” says the charming doctor, who’s even had cameo appearances on, fittingly, Bravo’s Southern Charm. The Spoleto Festival USA board member and regular at area cultural events is a man about town in the best possible sense, because he’s all about making his town healthier, especially when it comes to colon cancer prevention.
“My goal is to lessen health disparities for us all and especially among those who are underserved,” he says. “Colorectal cancer disproportionately impacts the Black community—we have the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. In fact, African Americans are about 20 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40 percent more likely to die from it compared to other groups. There is no reason for anyone to have fewer days on Earth due to something that can be prevented.”
While growing up in Memphis, the young Irions received a clear message from his parents: “They expected me to do and be everything I wanted to be,” he says. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a middle-school guidance counselor, raised their only son and his two older sisters in a middle-class African American neighborhood, surrounded by Black role models. A physician lived across the street; business owners, musicians and bankers also resided in the supportive and affirming environment. Irions, a top student in high school, went on to Emory University, where he majored in biology with a minor in music and served as president of the student government.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Emory’s campus and his natural affinity for science, medicine was definitely on Irions’s radar. “But so was business,” he says. “As a student, I wasn’t always sure what career path I would take.” So, he took both the GMAT and MCAT his senior year and applied to business school and medical school. “I was going to let it play out, and whichever one I got into would decide things.” He was accepted at both.
“There were no physicians in my family, so medicine felt a little intimidating,” he admits. “But, thanks to my parents’ support and encouragement, in my mind, I could do anything.” He ultimately realized his passion lay in serving others as a healthcare provider, so medical school it was. “I believe that if kindness, empathy and love are at the foundation of any endeavor, with a bit of diligence and perseverance, success will inevitably surface.”
When the time came to choose a fellowship specialty, he again felt conflicted. “With the help of my mentors, I decided to pursue gastroenterology,” he says. He liked that the field would allow him to care for a diverse patient population. “Gastroenterology crosses all segments—men and women, young and old. It’s not boring in any aspect,” says Dr. Irions, who did his internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York followed by a residency at Cornell University and fellowship at Albany Medical Center before a second fellowship at MUSC.
During his years in Manhattan, Dr. Irions also pursued a subspecialty of sorts—doctor of style. “I’ve always loved design,” says the debonair doc, who moonlighted at the Ralph Lauren Mansion on Madison Avenue to help make ends meet. The retail job led to Dr. Irions modeling for Ralph Lauren, whose aesthetic is still his go-to. “In many ways, I am a traditionalist. If it’s classy, it’s usually timeless,” he says. That same design sensibility translates to the chic Charleston home, featured in regional home décor publications, that Dr. Irions shares with his husband, Ryan Albert. (This fall, their historic home will gain national exposure on HBO Max and Magnolia Network.) During their time off, the two love to travel, and their abode is filled with art purchased from various destinations. “I love remembering our travels by walking around the house,” he says, though the overall effect is still minimalistic. “I’m of the less-is-more school of thought when it comes to style.”
More is more, however, when it comes to Dr. Irions’s practice. He’s a relentless advocate of preventive colorectal cancer screening for his patients and the community. “We work hard to take excellent care of each and every patient who trusts their care to us,” he says. “If patients have a positive experience and realize how simple it is to be proactive, they can then help dispel others’ fears. Our practice is very deliberate at empowering people to be advocates for one another,” adds Dr. Irions. When asked what he does for fun, the doctor quips, “I find polyps; I’m pretty good at it.”
Well, true, but there’s other fun, too, like playing tennis and bicycling to dinner at any number of his favorite restaurants. “Ryan and I aren’t cooks, so by default, we’ve got the cleanest kitchen in Charleston!” They also love music, which the Memphis native comes by naturally. “There’s a jukebox in my family’s home to this day, and my mother, Shirley, took up guitar at age 70,” says Dr. Irions, who plays oboe, clarinet, saxophone and guitar and previously served on the Charleston Symphony Orchestra board. His husband is a pianist, and the couple volunteers monthly at Ashley Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care in West Ashley, where Albert plays piano while Dr. Irions serves brunch.
Beyond his impeccable style and charismatic smile, it’s his dedication to service and outreach that sets Dr. Irions apart. “It is truly a privilege to be able to serve as a healthcare provider in our community. The people of our wonderful city have welcomed me here, and I promise to always give them my best.”
Name: Dr. Eddie Irions
Outside the Office, Find Him: Volunteering on the board of Spoleto Festival USA and at Ashley Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care; playing tennis, traveling and bicycling around town with his husband