Reprinted from The Desert Companion
The mentor: Dr. Jonathan Bernstein
Caring about kids is in Jonathan Bernstein’s blood — in an odd, literal way, in fact. He remembers his father, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, teaching him and his brother and sister how to draw blood when they were as young as 10 or 11.
“We could always get a job as a phlebotomist if we needed to,” Bernstein says, with a laugh. “We followed my dad around everywhere. We all learned how he took care of kids and listened to parents.”
The siblings took these observations to heart. Bernstein’s brother became a pediatric orthopedist, like their father. His sister went into teaching, where Bernstein himself started out. Early on, he thought going into medicine meant being a surgeon, which didn’t interest him. During his night job in a hospital, he learned differently.
“I was doing anesthesia and, playing with the kids, I realized I could do just as much to help them as a physician as I could as an elementary school teacher,” he says. He went back to college, earning his M.D. from the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Today he is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist.
Besides his father, other people influenced Bernstein’s eventual career choice in the medical field, including his mother, a cancer researcher. For his Master of Science in applied biometry, Bernstein’s thesis advisor was a statistician for a children’s oncology group. The advisor had his head and face shaved for a cancer benefit — something Bernstein now does every year for St. Baldrick’s (stbaldricks.org). This national event, held on St. Patrick’s Day, invites participants to have their domes buzzed as a way of raising awareness about cancer in children — and raising funds to fight it.
Bernstein has been a St. Baldrick’s Foundation annual research grant recipient since 2007. The money goes toward Cure 4 the Kids Foundation, the nonprofit Bernstein set up to support the Children’s Specialty Center of Nevada, which he also founded. Why the vigorous fundraising? Bernstein refuses to turn away any patient based on a family’s lack of insurance or inability to pay their medical bills. The center’s doctors are paid either a salary or day rate, rather than by fee-for-service.
“I don’t want them to worry about pay,” Bernstein says. “I want them to focus on giving them the best possible care.”
Parents of Bernstein’s patients are astonished by his devotion to the kids. On the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website, one mother wrote of posting a late-night Facebook message and receiving an immediate reply from Bernstein, who talked her through the difficult moment.
“I’m inspired by the kids,” Bernstein says. “They’re marvelous. They have an outlook on life that they want to live as happily as they can.”
In his clinic, Bernstein fosters an environment designed to reduce children’s fear. He plays with them, offers counseling for bullying and academic issues, even teaches them to draw blood, using himself as the “patient” — a bit of his father’s legacy come to life in his own practice. — H.K.