Meet Jennie. Reading champion. Softball mom. Pediatrician.
Before Jennie Lyons was a physician, she was a small child in a small town in Maine. And as soon as her little legs could walk, her mom would take her to the library. Every week they’d come home with armloads of books, and every night her parents would read her a bedtime story. That simple habit had a dramatic impact, shaping who she is today.
Jennie fell in love with words, became an incredible reader, and uncovered a passion for learning. She developed the tools she needed to do well in school—in language and science classes alike. Good grades meant she had her choice of colleges. She selected the University of Rochester in New York where she majored in biochemistry. From there, she attended the Medical College of Pennsylvania and completed a residency in pediatrics at Dartmouth in New Hampshire.
“Reading was the fundamental start to who I am today,” she says. “I attribute my life success to being a strong reader. I feel passionate enough about it that I want to share that with the world, or at least with my patients.”
One of the ways Dr. Lyons passes her enjoyment of literacy on to the families she cares for is through Vancouver Clinic’s Reach Out and Read program, which she leads. The program puts free books into the hands of kids ages 6 months to 5 years old during each well-child visit. Families get help starting a little home library and learn about the value of reading from their pediatrician. Doctors know that story time is about more than hearing new words. It’s an opportunity to develop empathy and kindness, practice listening, and feel close to Mom and Dad.
Dr. Lyons says she loves it when kids who have been in the program a while start peeking around for a book as soon as she enters the exam room, or when toddlers refuse to leave until they’ve heard their new story. It’s not uncommon for her patients to figure out that she’s a sucker for getting them hooked on books.
“Some kids will ask if I’ll read the book, and I can’t help but sit down and at least read a few pages,” she admits.
Eventually her patients age out of the program, transitioning from sweet baby to grade school student in a blink. Now some of the first patients she ever cared for at the clinic are teens and young adults—just like her own four children. Dr. Lyons says she has developed an affinity for working with older kids.
“When I first started practicing, I was a little afraid of seeing teenagers,” she reveals. “Now I love them. One of the hardest things is when they turn 18 and have to go see a grownup doctor.”
In the handful of years before she sends them off, Dr. Lyons strives to be a listening ear and to hear what they have to say with an open mind. She loves getting one-on-one time with teens so she can understand their perspective without the filter of a parent or grandparent. As a mom to a transgender teen, she particularly enjoys supporting kids in the LGBTQ+ community and creating a safe space for them.
Notably, that space will look physically different come fall. Dr. Lyons is one of several providers who will be opening Vancouver Clinic’s newest location in Camas. The two-story building is the clinic’s tenth location and was built using a new design that increases patient privacy in the front and staff and provider collaboration in the back. It’s similar to the Ridgefield location that opened in August 2019.
“I love change,” she says. “I love doing things differently and trying new things. I was one of the first adopters of electronic medical records. I volunteer to do things differently all the time. So I’m really excited to work there.”
Dr. Lyons also loves to get involved in whatever’s going on around her. When her son played soccer she assisted his teams. When her daughter joined an arts and academics program, Dr. Lyons stepped up to become president of fundraising. With her third child, it’s softball. She’s cheerleader, scorekeeper, snack giver, and medic at countless practices and games. Her husband and family are her focus outside of work, and nothing brings her more joy than supporting them.
Although she does love a good cake. Dr. Lyons started baking and decorating elaborate birthday cakes for her kids when they were little. Now that they’re older they see it as a challenge to stump Mom. She’s made cacti and succulents out of buttercream, recreated van Gogh’s Starry Night, and crafted a dinosaur eating a strawberry. Sometimes her clinic colleagues benefit from her crafty confections. She once brought in an epic Minion cake, among others. However, while baking is a fun diversion, she says she has no dreams of a career change. Her heart lies in medicine.
“I just connect with kids and with pediatric patients,” she says. “It seems natural and easy. I feel a magic there that I don’t feel anywhere else.”