Originally from Austin, Texas, Dr. Jessica Cannon traveled coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York City, before landing in Hot Springs and accepting a job as a pediatrician at Hot Springs Pediatric Clinic. Her three and a half years in the U.S. Navy and 11 years in medical school took her across the country, beginning at Cornell University in New York before traveling to Washington, D.C., and San Diego with the Navy. She then returned home to Texas for medical school, completed her first year of residency in Los Angeles and later transferred to New York City. From there, she began in pediatrics in South Carolina and then she and her husband made the move back to Washington, D.C., for her husband’s job. In March 2016, they took the plunge and moved to Hot Springs.
What made you want to get into pediatrics?
Dr. Jessica Cannon: I think everybody goes into medicine kind of with the “thing” that they like. I had lots of my friends who wanted to do women’s health, or they wanted to do surgery, and then you start doing it and realize that everything can be exciting in the beginning. What I loved about pediatrics was problem solving. You take this thing that can’t tell you what’s wrong with them and you have to collect all the data, get the pieces of the puzzle from all the people involved and then put it together. You have to use all of your powers of reasoning and deduction to put it together. So you’re kind of like Sherlock Holmes every time and it never gets dull. And, the thing is, with kids, you make them better and the smile on their face will last for days.
I started in pediatrics down in rural South Carolina and that was a great way to learn because basically anything that walks through the door, you’ve got to figure it out. When you graduate you don’t really feel like you know your craft yet, so I had a mentor who told me that if you really wanted to learn medicine, go to the places where they really need it. So that’s what I did. I went through the National Health Service Corps, went down to South Carolina, and that solidified my knowledge of medicine and my confidence because at that point you feel like you know what you’re doing.
Did you have kids of your own when you decided to go into pediatrics?
JC: No. That’s always the question that I think a lot of parents would ask me and my standard answer was, “No, I have yours, I take care of your children.” I do have two sons now—Rex,who is 2 and a half, and Ty, who is 11 months old this week. But that’s the one thing that kind of added to my practice. I don’t think it made me a better doctor; however, it made me more flexible because, having gone through it, the advice that I give parents now, I understand what it’s like to be going through that situation and so some- times it comforts them.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
JC: There’s so many good things. I think the interactions with the families, because you really do become part of their family group. They’re going to you for advice and so you have that trust and relationship that you build, and then watching them grow — you see them from infancy on. You feel almost like the aunt or the uncle in their life that is contributing to them and keeping them healthy and happy.
What about your least favorite part?
JC: I think the thing that bothers me most is when I see something that I wish I could fix and I can’t. That’s very frustrating and parents get frustrated sometimes when you tell them that there is no answer to this, I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on right now, we may just have to wait. Or in the situations where a kid is sick and maybe there are external forces that are to blame. Sometimes that feeling powerless is trying and challenging. But, again, that’s why I like this kind of medicine as opposed to the emergency room or something. They all have a place in medicine but I get the continuity. So if I can’t figure it out today then I need you to come back in a week or two months from now and give me more information so that I can finally piece it together.
What are the steps to becoming a pediatrician?
JC: Just like anybody, you graduate high school, you’re going to go to a four-year university and then you apply to get into medical school. Medical school is a four- year process. You do two years of didactic education, so that’s all your class work, all of the different systems that you learn, and then you start your rotations so for two years you do your rotations in the different specialties and that’s when a lot of people figure out what they like. So once you’ve chosen what specialty you want then you match into a residency program and now you’re training to be a pediatrician. Pediatric residencies in the United States are for three years. You’re a full-fledged doctor at that point so you’re getting paid, you are prescribing medications, but you’re under mentors. Then after that you’re on your own. Eleven years total.
What qualities must one have to be a pediatrician?
JC: Excellent communication skills. You kind of have to be able to size up the room and you have to know who you’re talking to. I almost have to play different roles with different parents. I have to get them to trust me, so sometimes I can be more academic and other times I need to be more simple, so you have
to choose how you’re going to communicate with them. I think everybody has a story with a doctor where they didn’t understand a word that was said. Medicine is basically a different language, we speak a different language, so, especially involving kids, you have to serve as the translator as well. I have the medical knowledge but I’ve got to be able to get it to the parents because, inevitably, they’re the ones who have to do the instructions that I need to give to them.
What made you move to Arkansas?
JC: Opportunity. We looked around and we were doing a lot of commuting. We loved our jobs, but my husband was commuting 45 minutes each way on a commuter train, sometimes an hour, I was doing 45 minutes to my job, and we had a young baby at the time. We just felt like we were spending so much time in the car and not with our child or with each other and we wanted to make sure that there wasn’t something better out there so we kind of put some feelers out. We took the plunge and decided to come out here and we’ve enjoyed it.