There are many milestones worth noting in one’s life. I am moving rapidly towards one of those milestones. On September 4, I will celebrate my retirement from 41 years as a pediatrician and 33 years at South Lake Pediatrics. It is a bittersweet time – the anticipation of more spaciousness in my life, more time to travel and spend time with family and friends, combined with the sadness of saying goodbye to patients and staff whom I love, and a career which has fed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first started so many years ago. So here I would like to offer you a glimpse into how this career came about, and what it has meant to me.
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada, the third child of second generation immigrants from England. All four of my grandparents had immigrated in 1912; my father’s parents were poor, uneducated Cockneys from the East End of London (think Call the Midwife), and my mother’s parents had been working in the cotton mills of Manchester from the ages of 9 and 13. The men came to Winnipeg to work for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Because of the economic hardships of the depression in the 1920’s and 30’s neither of my parents was able to finish high school. My grandparents and parents were determined that the next generation would have more education.
Before I was born, and when my older sister was 17 months old, my parents’ oldest child, a boy, died at the age of five from leukemia. Although I never knew this brother, his life and death were very present to me, and became an influence in my choice of career. When I was in fourth grade, I became very interested in science, and announced to my teacher that when I grew up I was going to be a scientist. My teacher explained that there were many kinds of scientists, and then proceeded to describe some. When she got to “medical research, where you might find a cure for leukemia,” I said yes, that was what I would do. Then she explained that for that career, I would need to go to medical school, so, okay, I would do that. Although much later I realized that I was not destined for a career in research, I never wavered from that early decision to go to medical school, and I was always encouraged in that by my family. I was given gifts of books about the human body, the Visible Man, Visible Heart, Visible Head (if these mean nothing to you – they were anatomically correct models that you could assemble and paint – I loved them!)
Fast forward to medical school…………I had “skipped a grade” in elementary school, so graduated from high school at 17. Then Canada, at that time, had an early admissions track to medical school, so I was accepted to the University of Manitoba Medical School in Winnipeg, in 1970 at age 19. I was very shy, self-conscious and socially awkward, but determined to do the work. Medical school was an intense, life-changing time. In the summer between first and second year, I worked on a research project in a lab, and discovered that I did not really enjoy it. So, in the summer between second and third year, I signed up for an externship with an internal medicine doctor. My job was to take medical and social histories from his new patients. It was an amazing experience! I like to say that my “empathy light” was turned on. I listened to many sad stories, and came to the realization that I needed to let go of my shyness and awkwardness in order to give the patients my full attention and compassion. It wasn’t about me – it was about them! I finished that two month experience knowing that I wanted to be a physician. A great epiphany to have half way through medical school!
So, then I started my clinical rotations in third and fourth year medical school, wondering which specialty I was called to. I soon realized I was not drawn to the surgical specialties; instead I was drawn to one of the “cognitive specialties,” – I preferred thinking about and discussing problems rather than doing procedures. I liked working with both adults and children, so had to decide between internal medicine and pediatrics. Soon I discovered the difference between the two – while there was an air of seriousness on the internal medicine wards, the pediatric wards were fun! The nurses wore bright colors and were cheerful and funny, the pediatricians were people who loved children, the walls were painted in bright colors, there were toys in the rooms, and of course, the children were adorable! By my internship year at Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg, I had decided that pediatrics was where I belonged.
During my Pediatric Residency, I was married, and my husband and I traveled to Hawaii for our honeymoon and thought it was the most beautiful place on earth. So, when at the end of my residency in 1978, I saw an advertisement for a pediatrician on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, I jumped at the chance. I started my first practice with the Kauai Medical Group in April, 1978, one of only two pediatricians in the group. I loved it! I loved seeing the same families over and over until we knew each other very well, helping new parents adjust to their newborns, and I loved the satisfaction of seeing sick children become well. My first son was born on Kauai in April, 1980, and we decided that we wanted to raise him closer to home, so in November of that year we moved to Minneapolis. I worked for five years at Richfield Pediatrics, and then, in January, 1986, one year after the birth of my second son, I was hired by Drs Dobrin, Swihart and Estrin as the fourth pediatrician at South Lake Clinic, later to become South Lake Pediatrics.
Over the past 33 years at South Lake, my children have grown up, many patients have been born, grown up and left home, and I have grown with them all. I can’t tell you how miraculous it has been to be an intimate part of families’ lives from the time their children are born until they are young adults in college. There have been tragedies, which I have had the sad privilege to share with families, and wonderful successes, as difficult situations have been walked through together, to the light on the other side. It has been an amazing privilege to walk with so many of you through good times and bad, to share the pains and joys of parenthood with you, and the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood with your children. I couldn’t have asked for a better career. That eight year old who decided to go to medical school knows that she made the right decision.
I am looking forward to my retirement – to have a more relaxed, spacious life, to spend more time with my sons, my family in Canada, and my friends here, to travel more and to do more volunteer work. But know that as I say goodbye to all my patients, and to South Lake Pediatrics, that I am so grateful for having been a part of all your lives. I will carry you all in my heart forever.