The Long Way to Go
John Long, MD, has been working at Old Harding Pediatrics in Nashville for the last twenty years—since he was 12.
He "got a big promotion" when he walked through the door as a physician four years ago.
John began his career at the pediatric practice when he and his brother Matt were hired by their father, Bill Long, MD, to clean up the parking lot and weed the flower beds at the office on Old Harding Road. He spent most of his time picking up the sugar-free lollipops that had been dropped by little patients leaving the office.
"I used to beg Dad to change to real lollipops—these 'healthy' ones weren't even making it to the car before the kids dropped them!"
The senior Dr. Long loves having his son 'inside' as part of the practice, and even though they work in different offices, they still talk about cases two or three times a week. Bill Long said its "very good for us to work together and very flattering that John wanted to work with me."
Bill grew up in Versailles, Kentucky and came to Vanderbilt as a student and football player. He played on the storied Vandy team that went 5-4-1, beat Tennessee, tied Florida, and swept down to the Peach Bowl.
When he wasn't playing football, he spent a lot of time in the lab—because his schedule was filled with science courses, and perhaps, because his lab partner turned out to be his future wife, Becky.
When he enrolled at the University of Kentucky Medical School, Becky worked in the Plant Pathology Lab, located conveniently in the building next door to the med school.
After marrying and graduating (first in his class), Bill and Becky returned to Nashville where he completed his training and served as chief resident in pediatrics, and on the faculty at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
He joined Old Harding Pediatrics in 1974 when the practice moved from downtown. He is a multiple recipient of the James C. Overall Award for teaching from the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Asked how pediatrics has changed since he first went into practice, he commented that the growth of pediatric subspecialties has made a big difference in managing patients with complicated problems.
"The way medicine is now, there are more sophisticated technologies to help with difficult diagnoses and a more contemporary approach to scheduling the physician's time—no middle of the night emergency trips to the hospital nursery and no night calls have made life a little more predictable," he said.
He currently practices from the Old Harding Pediatric Associates office in Bellevue. "We call it the 'frontier office,'" he chuckled.
More flexibility in his schedule gives Bill time to enjoy his seven grandchildren and savor "the joys of your kids having kids." It also enables him to do a little more trout fishing. His other son Matt and his family live near a great fishing spot in Boise, Idaho, and daughter Emily and her husband and children are nearby in Nashville.
"I plan to be enjoying practice for a long, long time," he predicted.
He laughs when he remembers that when someone asked John if he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, he replied, "No, I would rather be a working person."
John Long always enjoyed science and, when he decided to "be a working person," he was naturally drawn to medicine despite his early prediction.
"I guess I always planned to be a doctor," he admitted.
"I tried to fight being a pediatrician and thought I might want to go into internal medicine but I finally couldn't resist the appeal of working with the optimistic and resilient nature of kids," he said.
After graduating from Hillsboro, he did his undergraduate work at Duke where he found the students to be "serious about school but also balanced their lives with other interests." Along the way, he married his grade school sweetheart who was a classmate all through high school.
After Duke, he returned to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt School of Medicine, where he received the prestigious Amos Christi Award, the Vanderbilt Hospital Award for Excellence and the Canby Robison Society Ideal Physician Award. He completed his residency at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and joined the Old Harding practice four years ago.
Remembering "Dad had to work a lot more" when John was young, he is glad that a pediatrician's life has become more "schedule friendly" in recent years. He also attributed the change to the growth of subspecialties for the management of childhood illnesses like diabetes and seizures, and legal restrictions on house staff hours on call.
John used to be in a rock and roll band and loves to play the guitar, although the electric instrument doesn't get plugged in too often anymore – he sticks to acoustic these days and plays mainly for the enjoyment of his children. The new baby born in late June is not quite ready to join his older brother and sister as they rock out to their father's tunes.
With three young children, ages 5, 3 and 6 weeks, and a busy career, there is little extra time for hobbies, but he is an avid reader, especially of the richly textured classics of the 19th century Russian writers. His favorite of all time is Anna Karenina—"you just get swept up in the story," he confessed.
Both father and son say that practicing together has not overtaken their relationship and find that they love to discuss cases and share stories of working together as more than partners.