Physician Spotlight: Dr. Eddie Hamilton

by Cindy Sanders

Physician Spotlight: Dr. Eddie Hamilton

Eddie Hamilton, M.D., FAAP
"As long as I can remember, as a child, I always said I wanted to be a doctor," says Eddie Hamilton, M.D., FAAP.

He adds that coming out of a background where many people didn't have a chance to go to college, let alone professional schools, his ambition was met with enthusiasm.

"When I was doing well in school and would suggest I wanted to be a doctor, I'd get a lot of positive reinforcement from my family, friends and church members," Hamilton recalls. "Everybody was really excited," he continues. "As a child, I remember that distinctly."

Clearly everyone expected great things from the little boy whose two great passions at the time were medicine and baseball. As founder and administrator of Centennial Pediatrics, Tennessee's largest private pediatric practice, it is safe to say Hamilton has not disappointed his many supporters back home in his native Paducah, Ky.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Hamilton had always leaned toward being a pediatrician. Working with adult patients at the VA, he found many had medical issues born of their own bad habits. This strengthened his resolve to work with children and try to steer them away from paths that could negatively impact their health and wellbeing.

"In pediatrics, the emphasis for us is on preventative medicine," he says. "We start with the newborn. We're working with parents about child rearing, nutrition, exercise, education … all those kinds of things we're really addressing in the well child are paramount in pediatrics."

After finishing his residency in 1988, Hamilton went into practice with two other physicians at Southern Hills Pediatrics but decided to branch out on his own within two years. He had the opportunity to move his office to the Centennial Hospital campus. Space was available at the Women's Hospital, which was filled almost exclusively with obstetricians and gynecologists. In hindsight, it was a pivotal move that would pave the way for the tremendous growth the practice has seen over the past 15 years.

"I was the only pediatrician in the building," he recalls. "I had this built in referral base all around me so I was able to continue to build my practice and become very busy, very quickly."

Around 1992, Hamilton brought in his first partner and named the practice Centennial Pediatrics. Two years later, the formation of TennCare proved to be another major milestone in the practice's growth.

Hamilton saw an opportunity to hire additional nurse practitioners to work with TennCare enrollees and to open a second office at Southern Hills, where he had originally launched his career. The new location's patient roster was made up almost entirely of the 4,000 TennCare recipients they were assigned.

"The intent was to provide quality care to that population and find a way to make it work even though everybody else thought it was going to fail miserably," Hamilton says. "Later on we were able to start adding physicians to that location. Now it's our second busiest site."

Today, Centennial Pediatrics has a total of 9 offices, with a 10th opening later this year. The busy practice typically sees 12,000-15,000 patients every month.

"Our practice as a whole reflects our society," Hamilton says. "It's about 50 percent Medicaid and 50 percent private pay, which is about the ratios of our state," he continues. "Our practice is open to everyone."

As office locations expanded so did the need for providers. Currently, there are 33 physicians, including several pediatric specialists, plus six nurse practitioners. That number, Dr. Hamilton says, is fluid as new services or specialties are added.

The practice already includes Dr. Sharon Albers, one of only two board-certified pediatric dermatologists in Nashville, and Dr. Reeta Misra, a pediatric endocrinologist, as well as an audiologist and two child psychologists to better serve families.

"Our new specialty is sports medicine starting in July," Hamilton says of their continuing growth. "Dr. Mick Koester is a sports medicine fellow at Vanderbilt, and he's going to spend half of his time in our practice diagnosing and treating sports related injuries."

For Centennial Pediatrics, the term "specialty services" goes beyond medical offerings. A few years ago, Hamilton met Vanderbilt resident Dr. Maria del Pilar Levy, a young physician of Cuban descent who was raised in Puerto Rico.

"We just kind of came up with the idea of developing a site that was more responsive to the needs of the Hispanic community in Nashville which is increasing," Hamilton says.

The Southern Hills office already had numerous Hispanic patients where language was often a barrier. To meet that need, Centennial Pediatrics incorporated bilingual physicians, nurses and front office personnel into the Southern Hills practice. Additionally, bilingual Vanderbilt residents also work in the office as part of a continuity clinic that allows them to spend a half-day a week seeing their own patients.

"It gives them a chance to actually see how to practice in the real world setting away from Vanderbilt," Hamilton explains.

Centennial Pediatrics maintains many ties with Vanderbilt. Hamilton, who serves on several Vanderbilt committees, estimates approximately one-third of the physicians on staff received their medical training at the university.

It was his personal tie to the prestigious institution that landed Hamilton in the news this past spring when he offered $50,000 of his own money to assist Vanderbilt in its continuing fight to rename Confederate Memorial Hall.

"Vanderbilt had brought the issue up that they wanted to take the name off the building, and I had followed that in the papers for months," he explains.

After a judge ruled Vanderbilt would have to compensate the United Daughters of the Confederacy to make a name change, Hamilton made his unusual offer.

"As an alumnus, I just felt a need at that point to make sure they (Vanderbilt officials) know that there are people out there who are sensitive to this and who do support their desire to take this down," he continues.

Hamilton stresses he is not leading the charge to remove the Confederate name but is certainly glad Vanderbilt has pursued it.

Most of his activism, however, is on behalf of children. Hamilton was named to the Children's Cabinet in 2004 as the pediatric representative. The fulfillment of one of Governor Bredesen's campaign promises, the cabinet is made up of various state department commissioners, judicial representatives, child support agency representatives and "lay" people such as Hamilton with an active interest in the wellbeing of children.

"The big thing we've been focusing on first is trying to get all these agencies to work together and coordinate their services better," he says of the group.

Any free time remaining in his hectic day is spent with his family. Hamilton is married to wife Arnetta, and together they have four children ranging in age from six to 27. Perhaps because of his experiences as a parent, Hamilton's other great passion besides his own family is making sure that every child has equal access to quality care.

"I saw there was a difference in the quality of care that one person could get versus another person when I first started my practice, and I said that's not appropriate," he recalls. "Everybody should have access to the same quality of care," he stresses. "I think that's what we've been instrumental in creating in Nashville … no matter where you are economically, racially, socially, you can get good pediatric care."

His vision for Centennial Pediatrics is to continue to strive for excellence and to search out unmet needs within the community.

"What I'd like to see now is that we continue to expand on quality … make sure we're doing everything as well as it can possibly be done … and then secondly continue to expand the network so that we go to the areas where there's a need," Hamilton concludes. "It's not just about getting bigger, it's about getting better."