Numbers can help tell Dr. Nancy Fawcett’s life story.
She was one of the longest-tenured professors at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine — 52 years in caring for children at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.
As a pediatrics professor, the UM estimates she taught 7,000 students and 1,000 medical school residents during her career.
But numbers can only capture her career longevity. She could also be called a contemporary Dr. Spock — someone who cared for and cared about children for a lifetime. Fawcett, a mother of two, died on Sept. 16 at her home in Pembroke Pines at 85.
One of her 7,000 students, pediatrician Dr. Walter Lambert, now medical director of the UM Child Protection Team, has been called a “defender of the innocents” for his work as an advocate for abused and neglected children.
Fawcett, Lambert says, is the reason he and so many others have been able to care for children statewide.
“The day I die, if I know one-tenth of what she knows I will be a really learned person,” he said. “There is no doubt the kind of pediatrician I’ve become is a direct result of her. She was a person who was very comfortable with hospitalized patients but equally comfortable with taking care of healthy children. And that combination is relatively rare today.”
Pioneer, legend and pediatrician extraordinaire.
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine colleagues on Dr. Nancy Fawcett
Among her career highlights, Fawcett helped establish a poison control center at Jackson after becoming an attending physician in 1961. She was medical director for the pediatric Comprehensive Health Care Program at Jackson/UM from 1980 until her retirement in 2012. A past president of the Greater Miami Pediatric Society. An authority on rashes. She was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society for exemplifying “the highest ideals and standards in the profession of medicine.”
Yes, Fawcett, born Feb. 13, 1931, to tobacco farmers in Guilford County, North Carolina, and one of three women in the University of North Carolina medical school class of 1958, championed the late Dr. Benjamin Spock. Spock potty-trained generations through his folksy advice in his 1946 child-rearing bible, “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.”
Said Fawcett on the book’s 46th anniversary: “Still a great resource. It’s information most pediatricians won’t disagree with,” she told the Miami Herald in 1992.
Sure enough, Fawcett was equally at home in academia and with a worried mom and pop back home.
She was warm, inspiring, and epitomized humility. She was the definition of ‘lifelong learner,’ forever both a teacher and a student. She role modeled both. Dr. Fawcett was never one to tell you what you must know without also doing it herself. She truly walked the walk. Even as a senior-level and most respected professor, she pulled out her notebook at every lecture, entering notes of what she heard, even if she knew all the facts. She was enthusiastic about every patient, and every person, conveying a compassion which was enveloping. She was so sincere in her approach to learning and life that it changed people. One wanted to be near her warmth, to learn from her, and to catch her essence and hold onto it.
Dr. Judy Schaechter, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and the University of Miami Health System
“In the world medicine has now become, with specialists and everybody, she was one of these primary physicians who could argue with the sub-specialists and be correct,” Lambert said. “She was constantly learning. She always, when she went to lectures, took notes. That was her. Little pieces of paper, writing things down.”
But as a teacher, “she taught us how to approach the patients,” Lambert continued. “It was the exam but it was the talking to parents, the being open. In academics we focus on knowledge but it wasn’t about just that. It was about the art of pediatrics.”
Mark Rosenblum, director of the UM’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, recalled his friend with emotion. “She was who I reported to for 35 years. She was a tremendous support system, the most genuine person I ever met.”
When Rosenblum started out in the pediatrics community in 1977, Fawcett was a rarity. “It was male-dominated for a long time. She definitely held her own. Now, because of people like her, it’s improved for everyone.”
The first image is of her on the wards at Holtz, late on a Saturday evening, long after the rest of the on-call faculty had departed the hospital, examining patients, reading charts, answering nurses’ questions, and reviewing medical student notes. This was her standard practice – Saturday night, Sunday night, holidays – it didn’t matter. She was there for whomever needed her.
Dr. Barry Gelman, associate professor, Division of Critical Care Medicine
Fawcett is survived by her children David and Jane Fawcett, her brother Estine Pritchett, sister Mitzi Draper and grandchildren Caitlin and Griffin. Donations can be made to the Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.