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The Because Project: Dr. Lewis First

"I am a pediatrician because my parents believed in me, even if I didn't follow the career path they hoped I would."


Published March 1, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.
Updated April 4, 2022 at 7:52 p.m.

I grew up in Philadelphia in a family of obstetricians. My father, uncle and great uncle all delivered lots of babies — including me — over many years.

My dad couldn't talk to me specifically about his patients, but it was obvious that he loved his work. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Even as a kid, I was excited to follow in his footsteps.

According to my parents, that meant going to college and medical school in Philadelphia so that I could continue the family's obstetrical legacy. To prepare me for that track, my father began taking me to baby deliveries when I was 13 — only to watch me faint repeatedly in the delivery room.

My squeamishness didn't faze my parents. Rather than tell me I didn't have what it takes to become a doctor, they said they believed in me. They assured me that if medicine really was my passion, I'd overcome my fainting problem in time. At their suggestion, I volunteered in an emergency room. That did the trick. By the time I graduated from high school, I was no longer afraid of blood.

My new confidence gave me a clearer sense of my interests. I didn't want to deliver babies, but to take care of them after they were born, from the toddler to adolescent years. So I chose to train as a pediatrician in Boston.

I thought my parents would be disappointed. Instead, they told me that the specifics of my career, and where I pursued it, were far less important to them than my happiness — even if that meant leaving the city, and profession, my family had inhabited for generations.

At 59 years old, I've now been happily practicing pediatrics for more than 33 years. I realize that discovering my own meaningful career path, not just following in my dad's footsteps, is also what made my parents happy — something I keep in mind as my children prepare to set out on their own. No matter what they decide to do with their lives, I hope they know how much my wife and I believe in them, as much as my own parents have always believed in me.

The Vermont Children's Trust Foundation supports statewide prevention programs for children and families to help give all kids a fair chance at success.
The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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