Father of five, pediatrician of many

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 09:38 PM

Dr. Joseph Jackson will tell you he didn’t become a pediatrician by accident.

His love of working with children began at a young age, when he started to think being doctor held beautiful significance for helping others.

At 12, he played piano in a small Pennsylvania Baptist church, where he helped other kids foster their love of music.

Now, when he’s done with his work shifts as a Duke pediatrician, he heads home to spend time with his five boys, either in the backyard playing or on the soccer field. His family includes a set of 21-month-old triplets – he and his wife discovered multiples run in the family.

But his life path toward a big family and a Duke faculty position was not always easy.

He arrived in Durham in 2004 to start his pediatric residency, after eight years of college and medical school. Eighty-hour work weeks and frequent on-call shifts were common.

At the same time, he married his college sweetheart, Kisa, and they had their first child near the end of his residency.

“It really challenged me in terms of thinking about the kind of pediatrician I wanted to be and the kind of family man I wanted to be,” he said.

But then came a new “season of life,” as Jackson puts it, when his family learned to never take their days for granted. Joseph the III, his oldest son, was diagnosed with leukemia at only 13 months old. They spent a year battling cancer and going through chemotherapy at Duke Hospital, where Jackson would finish up his shift and go spend the night in his son’s hospital room. Students and staff he worked with during the day later saw him at night as they went on their rounds from room to room.

“It was a very strange, very vulnerable, very transparent season of life,” Jackson said. “It was very obvious the pain and suffering that we were going through, but there was also the sense that life was still happening.”

His son recovered, and Jackson said his large family gives him the ability to connect on a deeper level with the families he meets in the hospital.

“I never want my families to forget that I’m a husband and a dad first,” he said. “I had to wash the dishes right before I came to clinic, I get that. So I want them to understand that they can ask me about anything.”