Face Time: Stephen Jacobs, popular pediatrician

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Pediatrician Stephen B. Jacobs has been caring for Lewiston-Auburn’s children for more than three decades.

It’s been a dynamic career. He’s worked in hospitals and doctors’ offices, in a clinic that assessed kids for developmental problems and in a NICU, where the community’s sickest newborns get help. This fall, the Maine Children’s Trust presented him with its Professional Advocate Award for his longstanding commitment to preventing child abuse and neglect.

But the best part about a career caring for kids? It’s not the accolades. 

It’s watching his young patients grow up.

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Name: Stephen B. Jacobs

Age: LX (60)

Town: Greene

Family: Daughter, Emily A. Jacobs; son, Nathaniel S. Jacobs; step-son, Victor J. Dumais; cat, Calypso

Job: Pediatrician

What got you interested in pediatrics? I first realized I enjoyed working with children when I spent a “Jan Plan” my freshman year at Colby College working at Waterville’s Head Start program. Jan Plans are four weeks in January for focused study, interning or research.

Skip ahead to my third year of medical school, a year filled with rotations through different specialties. I had gone through surgery, internal medicine and a variety of other specialties without any special spark. Then came pediatrics and it felt like I was home. It felt natural.

Pediatrics appealed to me intellectually as well as viscerally. Pediatrics is total body medicine. It is also social medicine, dealing with the patient in the context of their family structure. Overlay on top of that the developmental aspect — the unfolding of the patient as they move from infancy through childhood through adolescence into young adulthood. Furthermore, pediatrics is a very preventive-oriented specialty, another factor I really like.

How long have you been a pediatrician? Very long. I started practicing in the Jurassic Era. It is hard for me to believe that 32 years of practice in Lewiston have gone by.

Does that mean you’re now caring for the kids of your former patients? Absolutely, and that is a joy. It is also an honor and a compliment when a parent wants you to be their child’s pediatrician because you were their pediatrician.

Best part about caring for kids? Well, “kids” covers a broad range. My patients range in age from newborn to 22 years old. Watching kids grow up is extraordinary. It can be like watching a flower unfold and blossom. (I love flowers too, so the analogy works for me.) Kids’ openness, innocence, honesty, slyness and sneakiness are all joys. In addition, I have the privilege to work (and have worked) with some extraordinarily caring and talented colleagues.

Most challenging part? The most difficult part on a day-to-day basis is seeing children in environments that are so challenging to their well-being. I learned early on that there are very few things I can truly fix, and that the serenity prayer — where one has to accept the things one cannot change — is a very important mantra to have.

When you hear parents have been Googling symptoms, you wish you could tell them: I do tell them, “Please share with me what Dr. Google had to say.

I like it when a parent has thought hard about what may be going on. I invite the parent to not only share the story of the illness, but also what they think may be going on and what their big worry or fear may be.

Early intervention: important or overrated? Crucial.

What’s the question you get most from parents? Hm. Perhaps: “Is their growth OK.” “Is that weight gain OK?” Or, “Are they due for any shots today?” Physical growth, weight gain and vaccines are definitely among the items foremost on parents’ minds.

I do believe that parents seek and appreciate validation that they are doing a good job, whether that comes from a year of solid growth viewed on the growth graph, a healthy physical exam or some other factor.

What’s the question you get most from kids? “Am I going to get any shots?” Followed closely, when answered in the affirmative, with “Today?” Vaccinations are foremost on most kids’ minds.

What’s something you wish all parents knew? Parenting is difficult. It can be filled with joy and filled with heartbreak. Each child is unique and there is no one way to parent. Parenting will challenge you every day in some way or another. I hope a parent gives it all they have to do the best they can. In the blink of an eye, their child will be grown.

How did it feel getting the award from the Maine Children’s Trust? Humbling.

What’s something people can do right now to help prevent child abuse? Educate themselves about parenting, about themselves, about how to handle the stressful times, about how to recognize when one is overwhelmed and how to manage that, about how to ask for help. Take care of themselves — if one has addictions, physical illness or mental illness, seek help and treatment.

Pediatrician Stephen B. Jacobs stands in one of his exam rooms with a fire engine exam table. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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