Dr. Chad Rodgers might have become a family physician like his father except for one small problem.
“The party doesn’t start until Chad arrives. He loves his job, and he loves his life.” — Aimee Olinghouse, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics about Chad Rodgers.
"I just don't like taking care of adults," the Little Rock pediatrician says. "Kids, when they get well, they just pop up and play again. They're a great group to work with."
Rodgers' work for them extends far beyond the exam room. He has championed childhood literacy, early childhood care, newborn screening and more while serving on seemingly every state and nongovernmental body devoted to children's health in Arkansas. He'll be honored at the 2016 Friends of Children annual luncheon Oct. 31 along with C.J. Duvall Jr., a clergy member and businessman. The event benefits Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, one of many organizations in which Rodgers has been active.
"He has a very holistic view of children's health," says Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates. "He gets that it's more than just health care for a young kid to develop physically, socially and mentally."
"He's such an influencer," adds Mallory Van Dover, the nonprofit's director of development. "He has a wide and varied circle of friends who love and respect him, because he earns that."
Rodgers hopes that's true. After doing some figuring, he says the luncheon will be at least the third time this year he has hit up friends for a contribution supporting some children's cause. Just last month, he put his tango skills on display at Dancing With Our Stars, which benefited the Children's Tumor Foundation.
"Basically anything for a kid, I'm willing to do," he says.
He's got a theory about that, by the way.
"I think I'm just a big kid."
Rodgers, 45, is indeed youthful, with shoulder-length hair, an easy smile and an avowed goal of enjoying life as much as possible, whether it's traveling, spoiling his dogs, throwing parties or going for a run with friends.
"The party doesn't start until Chad arrives," says Aimee Olinghouse, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and one of his best friends. After saying she'd "like to come back as one of Chad's dogs," Olinghouse offers up the best description she can think of for Rodgers:
"He loves his job, and he loves his life."
Rodgers gave some thought to a couple of nonmedical careers but had a strong role model for the type of physician advocate he'd become in his father, Dr. Charles "Shot" Rodgers, who retired in January after more than 40 years as a family physician in Little Rock. As a kid, Chad hung out in the doctor's lounge at Baptist Hospital while his father made his rounds.
Rodgers graduated from Catholic High School for Boys and went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, majoring in biology. (He carried a double major in English for a while until a teacher "told me I'd never make any money" in that field. An avid reader and huge David Sedaris fan, he says he wishes he had "the whole day to sit and read a book.") He taught aerobics and got interested in the preventive side of medicine while working in Baylor's student wellness program. He says he thought seriously about going into the ministry as well, and volunteered at the YMCA in Waco, working with inner-city kids.
"That shaped a lot of my future advocacy," he says. "Those kids were hungry and also just hungry for attention."
He returned home to earn his medical degree and complete his residency at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, serving as chief resident in Arkansas Children's Hospital's pediatrics department. During residency he did a rotation with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. "I always joke that they made me drink the Kool-Aid," says Rodgers, who went on to serve on the organization's board from 2008 through last year.
TREATING THE BIGGER SYMPTOMS
Rodgers joined Little Rock Pediatric Clinic in 2002 and practices there today. He treats patients from infancy through their teens, performing wellness checks and treating common and acute childhood illnesses. "It's a real honor when people trust you with their kids. You really get to grow with the family."
Additionally, a focus of his practice is developmental and behavior disorders such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, as well as the prevention and management of chronic illnesses such as asthma and obesity. Rodgers revealed that he has a mild form of ADHD, one he controls with "organizational skills like always putting my keys in the same place" rather than medication. On the plus side, he says, the condition can give him the energy to meet crunching deadlines.
When treating children with similar disorders, his preference is to use as little medication as possible, although he says it's necessary in many cases. He prefers stories like that of a young male patient who lost 40 pounds after his mother got him involved in the nonprofit P.A.R.K. program, which offers kids opportunities for physical activity.
"I was like 'Holy cow, I'm so proud of you.'"
"As rewarding as those kind of experiences can be," Rodgers says, "you really can't help a lot of these kids unless you're working on bigger issues."
Rodgers started Arkansas' first Reach and Read program -- which gives parents books to read to their young children -- with Dr. James Scherer (now a pediatrician in Bentonville) while a third-year resident at Children's Hospital. Later he helped it expand to 30 sites around the state. It has put about 60,000 books in the hands of parents and their kids, and, based on research, has shown benefits beyond just learning the ABCs. "My personal goal is that every child in Arkansas would participate," Rodgers says.
He is serving his second term as president of the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, having also been its treasurer, secretary and vice president. Rodgers has testified before committees of the state Legislature about immunization, oral health and other public health issues.
"He's been at the legislative table ... making sure all children have access to high-quality medical care in their communities," Olinghouse says, noting that other organizations are involved as well. "Most of these issues we finally get passed are years and years of work and failed attempts, but we never give up."
Sign up for free, daily email alerts from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
As an example, Olinghouse cited passage of oral health legislation approved in 2011 that allowed physicians and nurses to apply a fluoride varnish to children's teeth during regular check-ups and required community water systems serving more than 5,000 people to fluoridate their systems.
Huddleston says Rodgers has been involved in efforts to make it easier for children to be enrolled in ARKids First, the state's Medicaid program for children, and helped stop proposed cuts in overall Medicaid funding and support Medicaid expansion.
"Chad understood there's a direct connection between making sure that parents of low-income kids get coverage" and their children's health, Huddleston says. "The research is pretty clear that if parents get coverage, it's much more likely they're going to enroll their kids."
Rodgers was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission, overseeing the development and implementation of pre-kindergarten and daycare programs. He believes a lot of the state's actions on behalf of children have been "pretty successful," but believes Arkansas '"still has a long way to go on education," especially in getting more children served by good pre-kindergarten programs.
"Kids are just disproportionately affected by poverty," he says. "But children are the best investment. They have the potential to go anywhere and do anything."
On a national level, Rodgers serves on the pediatrics academy's committee on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health and wellness, and was an early supporter of the Arkansas Literacy Festival.
Olinghouse noted that Rodgers volunteers to be the Legislature's "Doctor of the Day" one day each session, giving lawmakers a look at him in action as well as giving them a dose of his advocacy prescription.
Rodgers says he no doubt inherited some of his activism from his father, who was heavily involved in the American Academy of Family Physicians and spent a lot of time at the state Capitol trying to influence public policy on issues such as seat belt and smoking regulations.
Chad worked in the organization's office during high school, and his father built family vacations around attending its national meetings, putting his children in a Winnebago to drive to them. Rodgers picked up a love of travel, too, saying he starts planning his next vacation as soon as one ends.
"I've got to have something in front of me."
Taking a broader view of medicine also led Rodgers to a career move last year, when he went to work for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, splitting his time between it and his practice at Little Rock Pediatric Clinic. The foundation, a nonprofit that has been around in various forms since 1972, seeks to improve health care through various services to medical providers including education, case reviews and practice support. Goals include helping providers meet new quality measures mandated by Medicaid, keeping health care costs manageable and implementing what's known as patient-centered care.
"I think having a knowledgeable, engaged patient advocate who also understands the economics of health care, as does Chad, really brings a very strong perspective and balances the services to patients with fiscal responsibilities," says Jayant Deshpande, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital.
Rodgers says his background allows him to connect policy to actual practice. He has a third job as well, consulting one day a week with the Arkansas Pediatric Facility of North Little Rock, which provides long-term residential care for medically and physically disabled children.
LIFE OF THE PARTY
Deshpande, who's a neighbor of Rodgers, can't help noting that Chad and his husband, Eric McDaniel, set a high standard for hosting fundraisers and other get-togethers at their house in Hillcrest.
"They are both incredibly socially active and really do a fantastic job of setting an example for being engaged in the community -- really supporting excellent causes in the city," he says.
Huddleston says Rodgers has always been a top fundraiser among board members, understanding that nonprofits need money to do their job. "He's always been very gracious in terms of opening up his home."
Other get-togethers are just for fun, like the Between Party that Chad and Eric throw between Christmas and New Year's each year. "It's usually elbow-to-elbow," Rodgers says. "We do throw a good party, for sure."
Olinghouse says her friend seemingly can't go anywhere without running into friends and well-wishers. "The lady at the supermarket checking him out says, 'Dr. Chad! You're my baby's doctor!' And he just grins and says 'How is the baby?"
For that reason, Rodgers doubts that he'll give up practicing completely any time soon.
"I don't think so. I love seeing patients. I love watching them grow."
But he admits that between three jobs, community commitments and a lively social life, "I have a lot of balls in the air."
"I just have to make sure to catch them when they all come down."
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: June 7, 1971, Little Rock
LAST PLACE VISITED: Philadelphia
MY CHILDHOOD HERO WAS: Superman
THING I MOST ENJOY ABOUT BEING A PEDIATRICIAN: working with families during the most exciting and challenging times in their lives and getting a chance to watch these kids grow up
FUNNIEST THING A PATIENT HAS SAID TO ME: “You smell.” I think she was talking about my cologne, but it still surprised me and made me laugh.
IF I WASN’T A PHYSICIAN I WOULD BE: I thought seriously about going into the ministry when I was in college. But medicine is a form of ministry. I had a strong fitness background as well, so I think it would be fun to work with people who are at a bad place in their life to become a healthier and happier person physically, spiritually and mentally.
I DRIVE A Volvo C70 convertible.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT DAY: sleeping late, followed by a good walk, run or bike ride; wine with lunch; and dinner with good friends
FANTASY DINNER PARTY GUESTS: Anderson Cooper, Jimmy Fallon, Eleanor Roosevelt, President and Mrs. Obama, (former Texas Gov.) Ann Richards, Dr. Betty Lowe, plus a few other hundred of my closest friends
ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: kind
High Profile on 10/23/2016
Print Headline: Chadwick Taylor Rodgers