If you recognize Dr. Stephen Hales (pictured here with his 2-month-old granddaughter, Arden) it may be because he was your pediatrician and is now your child’s. Or you’ve seen him at a performance of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra – Dr. Hales and his wife Nancy are big supporters and the group just made him a Life Trustee. If you have X-ray eyes, you may have spotted him behind a mask in the Rex parade – he’s a member of the organization and is one of the driving forces behind incorporating the krewe and its history into a special program called “Rex in the Classroom” and he’s an advocate for improving public education. For us at New Orleans Magazine, we know Dr. Hales as the subject of the cover of the magazine 10 years ago this month for the annual “Top Doctors” issue.
Ubiquitous, no doubt. Beloved, for certain as Dr. Hales has been a doctor for 35 years, overseeing the health of the city’s babies and children. For the past seven years, he’s been teaching medical ethics to first-year medical students ensuring that they, too, as doctors, successfully balance science and humanism. It’s his own humanism that sparks pursuits in fields other than science: he is a writer and a fan of writers (“I appreciate good writing,” he says) and his articles have been published in Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide and in Classic Boating. He’s a published poet and self-described “frustrated historian.”
Dr. Hales is no stranger to tackling challenges – he just started “working a half day a week as a banker,” he says, as a board member of the Fidelity Homestead Bank – while on a less serious note, on the day of our interview he was trying to figure out how to get his iPhone to work. (Luckily, he has a computer whiz son who calls periodically – not on the iPhone – to check in to see how it’s going.)
Dr. Hales’ life is like a juggling act – a healer to many, advocate for good education, father, grandfather, writer, student of life – but it’s one he pulls off with ease – and the city’s children are the better for it.
Age: 61 Family: Wife, Nancy; 6 sons; 8 grandchildren Resides: Uptown Born: Ogden, Utah Education: University of Utah College of Medicine; Residency in Pediatrics, Phoenix, AZ.; Fellowship in Pediatric Immunology and Allergy, University of Texas, San Antonio. Favorite book: I like history and biographies. Right now, I’m reading a biography of Lord Horatio Nelson. Favorite restaurant: I have four favorite neighborhood restaurants: Alberta, Martinique, Upperline and Gautreau’s. Favorite food: Certain cuts of meat and crab salad Favorite movie: Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing Favorite TV show: I don’t watch much TV but I liked West Wing. Favorite hobby: Writing What brought you to New Orleans? I wanted to experience a few years in an exotic place. I ended up falling in love with the city – the people, the diversity. New Orleans is everything Utah wasn’t.
What made you become a doctor? I like the combination of sciences and working closely with people. I fully intended on becoming a surgeon when I started medical school. But in pediatrics, I liked the interaction with families, creating a relationship with the parents and children. Today, I often see the children of children I treated years ago.
What’s the difference now as a doctor than when you first started? Raising a child is emotionally intense and parents face different challenges. Today, both parents usually work. Because of that they have to find the right type of childcare as well as deal with time management issues. Children’s free time is more structured than in the past. A real positive is that I see more fathers or both parents come to appointments, which rarely happened when I started.
What are some of the problems you see in healthcare in the U.S.? New Orleans? The disparity in health care in the U.S. In New Orleans, we lost so many hospital beds and doctors. Major hospitals like Charity and Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East closed. LSU Health Sciences Center needs to have a strong teaching hospital. [On a positive note,] in New Orleans, Children’s Hospital opened soon after Katrina. Children’s knew that for people to come back, they had to be reassured that they would have access to high-quality care for their children. Children’s Hospital has always cared for children from all income levels, so access is not an issue.
Tell me about “Rex in the Classroom” and “Operation Pro Bono.” When Rex was founded in 1872, it was Reconstruction and New Orleans was on its knees economically. The city leaders had to think of a way to get tourists to the city. Carnival had been already celebrated in the city for years and the Rex parade was a way to give real shape to the celebration – and a way to give back. The city is in much similar circumstances right now and Rex, in the spirit of its motto Pro Bono Publico – “For the Public Good” – founded “Operation Pro Bono Publico” in 2006 to raise funds for three projects: “Project Gold,” “Project Purple” and “Project Green.” “Project Gold” raised funds – $50,000 – to help police officers and other first responders who lost their homes to hurricane Katrina. Those funds were raised by the bracelets thrown at Rex’s Mardi Gras parade. “Project Green” helped city sanitation services the Saturday after Mardi Gras – Rex members were among the 1,000 volunteers who cleaned the Uptown parade route. “Project Purple” targeted public charter schools, providing volunteer legal, accounting and other services.
“Rex in the Classroom” was an effort to take the Rex parade theme, which is often drawn from mythology, history, the arts and literature, and create a Web-based educational program available to any school.
You’re very involved in helping revive the public schools in Orleans Parish. Right now there’s an opportunity to take a failed urban school system and make a profound, positive change. I’m on the board of New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). It’s an umbrella organization that brings together groups concerned with education in the city. It had its first anniversary in June and the group has already raised $6 million and hopes to get national funding soon. Among the many things NSNO has done, they’re opening nine new charter schools this fall and nine more in 2008.
My involvement in public schools since Hurricane Katrina has allowed me to work with young educators and educational leaders. They are numerous, committed and inspiring – NSNO’s leaders Sarah Usdin and Matt Candler are two good examples. There is a passion and a gleam in the eyes of this growing group of wonderful young people. And I truly believe that excellence in public schools can help lead the recovery of the city.
True Confession: In another life, I would wish to return as a poet.
To learn more about New Schools for New Orleans, visit www.nsno.org.