The people’s pediatrician: Jonathan Schwab named 2020 Community Clinician of the Year  

  • Dr. Jonathan Schwab. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Medical Society

  • Dr. Jonathan Schwab at Northampton Area Pediatrics. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Jonathan Schwab at Northampton Area Pediatrics. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Jonathan Schwab at Northampton Area Pediatrics. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Jonathan Schwab at Northampton Area Pediatrics. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/26/2020 11:10:39 AM

When Jonathan Schwab was growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, he looked up to his uncle, Robert Abrams, founder of Holyoke Pediatrics and a now-retired pediatrician, as an inspiration and mentor in his life. Years later, Schwab himself became a pediatrician and has for the past 30 years been providing health care for children and young adults in the Pioneer Valley.

Schwab, 61, a Northampton resident and the medical director for Northampton Area Pediatrics, was recently named the 2020 Community Clinician of the Year by the Hampshire District Medical Society, an honor that was once bestowed upon his uncle as well. 

“I find myself humbled by it because I feel like I’m just a byproduct of people who are around me, as well as the people who were around me growing up and who’ve mentored me,” said the Northampton pediatrician, whose father, Thomas Schwab, was a lawyer and activist in Holyoke known for providing pro bono help to local organizations.

Whenever Schwab would visit his uncle, a lifelong learner, he’d see him reading to keep up to speed with the practice of medicine. 

“He taught me that the best way of practicing medicine is to always be learning to catch up,” Schwab said. “The other thing that I learned from him is that for a pediatrician, it’s rewarding to be involved in the community. My uncle was a school physician in Holyoke for probably 30 years. He’s one of Holyoke’s stars in that he was involved in a lot of political initiatives. Many people know about Bob Abrams, not only because of what he did taking care of kids, but what he did for the community.”

Dr. Jaya Agrawal is president of the Hampshire District Medical Society, the county chapter of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Agrawal said Schwab was nominated for the award by a number of his colleagues in the district. Every year, a nomination form is mailed out to district members, and they cast their votes in secret. The person who receives the greatest number of nominations receives the title. 

“It’s typically a physician who has been prominent in the community as well as someone who is beloved by patients and their peers,” Agrawal said. “Dr. Schwab has been practicing in this community for a long time, and he’s universally respected. I think the thing that strikes me most about him is that he’s the kind of doctor who sees as a responsibility not only for the patients that he cares for, but the whole community.” 

Schwab followed in his uncle’s footsteps, taking his lessons to heart about being part of his local community. He serves as the physician for Hadley Public Schools and Smith Vocational as well as local area camps. 

Gail Fuller, a registered nurse with Hadley Public Schools, said Schwab’s role as school physician includes giving general guidance for the district as well as filling out medication orders and providing training. 

Fuller worked with Dr. Schwab when she was a program nurse at special education school Cutchins Programs for Children & Families in Northampton. Last year, she joined Hadley Public Schools, where she has continued working with Schwab. 

“He’s everything you want in a physician,” she said. “He’s very experienced and knowledgeable. He’s always responsive. He’s extremely competent, kind and caring … If we have a concern about a student, he’s always available for us with a phone call or email to answer our questions.” 

Schwab has also participated in community discussions with Hatfield Public Schools, talking about subjects including the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with grief. “I was involved with a community talk with the Hatfield Schools when one of their students passed away,” Schwab said. “They wanted to have a physician come in and help the students and parents mourn and understand grief.” 

Schwab graduated in 1981 from Amherst College, where he studied psychology and met his future wife, Cheryl (they  have two sons). He graduated from medical school at the University of Maryland School of Medicine five years later. From there, Schwab took part in a residency program at New England Medical Center/Boston Floating Hospital, before starting his medical career in the Pioneer Valley. 

“Rather than doing my practice in a larger city, I decided I’d rather come out here to western Massachusetts, where I could become involved in the community even easier,” he said.

Schwab Sensei

Dr. Schwab wears a bow tie almost every day because he views it as “more relaxed than a regular tie.” It’s important to him that his young patients see him as approachable. “Pediatrics is not like this stuffy medicine,” he said. “It’s much more upbeat. I think bow ties add to that.” 

While he is a general pediatrician, Schwab has areas of special interest including asthma, infectious diseases and ADHD. He’s constantly learning about the mental health of children and young adults, he said. “There’s a huge depletion of child psychiatrists, so as a consequence pediatricians have to step up and learn more about that and become experts themselves in that,” Schwab explained. “That’s certainly an area that I’ve had more of an interest in because it fills that need.” 

A lifelong learner like his uncle, Schwab is also a mentor.

Caitlin Carvalho, of Northampton, has three sons — now ages 22, 20 and 18 — who’ve all been treated by Dr. Schwab over the years.

“He’s always been great with the kids,” she said. “He really talked to them with respect … He really listened to what they had to say.” 

While she was going through a battle with cancer a few years ago, Carvalho said Schwab took the time to check in with her during her illness. 

“He was just there always for us in so many regards,” she said. “I felt like that was just such a telling part of his person. He’s just a genuinely kind and concerned person.” 

Her 20-year-old son, Joe Bosco (a pre-med student), is now working under Dr. Schwab as a pediatric scribe.

“I’d consider him a mentor,” Bosco said, “and he always took the time after appointments to teach me aspects of medical practice, both scientific and logistical.”

For Schwab, working with medical students in residence is a rewarding experience in which he sees them grow in their profession. 

“They gain more confidence and abilities to do what it is they’re doing,” he said.

Outside of his medical practice, Schwab has been a past board member of the Hampshire Regional YMCA and The Garden: A Center for Grieving Children and Teens, as well as a former two-term chair of pediatrics at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. 

He’s also known for mentoring students as a black belt in karate and sensei at Northampton Karate, where he combines exercise with mental discipline. 

“I think that in order to become a better practitioner for whatever you do — whether that’s medicine or karate — you get something out of teaching other people,” Schwab said. “They teach you as much as you teach them.” 

Jason Foster, owner and senpai of Northampton Karate, has known Schwab not only in his role as a karate instructor, but as the doctor for his two kids who are now 17 and 16 years old. He said Schwab brings the same level of attention to teaching karate as he does to his medical practice. 

“You get his full, undivided attention; you get a thorough review of any questions or concerns or information that you didn’t know that you needed,” Foster said. “He is knowledgeable in every subject matter that he chooses to be engaged in.” 

Foster said Schwab’s skill as a karate teacher is in inspiring his students to maintain their determination in learning the martial art. 

“He’s the nicest guy in the world, but he’s tough as nails when it comes to training,” Foster said. “He leads by example, and he is a very gentle soul with a fierce physical and mental capacity to train.” 

Dr. Peter Kenny, a semi-retired pediatrician who founded Northampton Area Pediatrics, originally as a sole practice more than 40 years ago, also spoke of Schwab’s leadership qualities. When Schwab joined the practice in the 1990s, Kenny said, he found him to be a generous person dedicated to serving others in the community. 

“We all have people who will only see Doctor X or Doctor Y. But anyone who has ever met Jon has been drawn to him,” said Kenny, one of the people who nominated Schwab for the medical award, which he himself received in the past. “I was joking with one of our nurses years ago: ‘What is it about Jon? What is the quality?’ And she said, ‘He is kind.’ His intuitive capability to be present with people, children and families, is the basis for how effective he is. He’s a careful listener, a careful reader, and people feel very open and able to participate in whatever their concerns are.” 

Kenny noted that Schwab’s role as medical director at Northampton Area Pediatrics unites the physicians and staff working at the practice. 

“If somebody comes in and they have a tummy ache or something, there’s different ways in which you might approach it. Of course, you need to have a scientifically-based consensus,” Kenny said. “Jon is the glue that helps us keep our eye on really thinking through various topics and coming up with the best approach to help somebody.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.


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