by Sue Ann Rybak
For 41 years, Dr. Herbert Cady, Jr., 71, has treated infants, children and adolescents in his practice, Mt. Airy Pediatrics at 7056 Germantown, which he opened in 1976.
“Back in those days, you could start a practice with a shingle,” he said jokingly.
But on Dec. 31, Cady, a parent of four children, will officially retire. The Erdenheim resident started practicing medicine in 1974.
Ironically, Cady, who described himself as a “lousy” student in college, said he never intended to be a doctor. As a student at Ohio Wesleyan, he majored in economics because he enjoyed numbers.
Initially, he planned to become an accountant.
When he was in his junior year of college, however, he realized he was “really going to graduate” and needed to start thinking about what interested him.
“Numbers interested me , but the person I identified the most with was Dr. Wayne Marshall [a family physician],” he said. “Despite being a very good physician, he spent time with me and helped me deal with some issues I was having [as an adolescent] at the time, which might have seen insignificant to doctors of his caliber.
“I had been to doctors before that, but he was the first one that I encountered that I really admired. I started thinking about medicine, but I was a lousy student. When I first started college, I thought about studying journalism because I always admired people who could write, but I quickly found out I couldn’t write.”
Despite this, after graduation from college he interviewed for a job as a copy editor at the Main Line Times.
“They gave me the usual test and, after reviewing my test, very kindly said, ‘You’ll never make it as a copy editor,” he said.”So, that just affirmed my belief,”
At that point, Cady began contemplating becoming a doctor.
“In my ignorance, I thought, ‘Well, lets try this,’ and my father was willing to support me while I took science courses at Penn,” he said.
Cady decided to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania’s College of General Studies program.
“They had just begun a track for postgraduates who were interested in medical school,” he said. “I was one of the first students to graduate from the program.”
He was accepted into Temple University’s School of Medicine and later completed his residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
Cady said he decided to become a pediatrician after working as a long-term substitute teacher in the Philadelphia public school system.
“I had nine months between the time I finished at Penn and the time I started at Temple,” he said.
He said it was a life changing experience.
“For somebody who grew up in Valley Forge, to be a longterm sub at 54th and Lancaster Avenue, it was a phenomenal experience,” he said. “That was the first time I dealt with kids. Racism was pretty prevalent back then – even more than it is now.”
He said he felt compelled to help them.
“They were dealing with serious issues – hunger, drugs, violence and physical and emotional abuse,” he noted.
He added that despite these challenges they still managed to find joy in their lives.
“That experience was probably the thing that got me into pediatrics more than anything else,” he said. “I love the interaction I have with the patients and the feeling of being able to help them.
He said that over the years “pediatrics has gone from being acute care to preventive medicine.”
“Earlier in my career, because there weren’t that many vaccines, children got sick a lot,” he said. “Now with better home care for ashman and better vaccinations, it’s a lot more psycho-social stuff. What’s happening in school? What’s happening in families? We weren’t worried about that stuff earlier because we were working so hard just to keep kids alive.”
He added that kids today are very “straightforward” and “basically honest.”
“They occasionally might tell us an untruth, but even then the situations are usually well-known,” he said. “Most of the time, when they tell us an untruth it’s usually about drugs. And they know, you know. It’s sort of a dance you make.
“Kids are so honest with us, and that honesty demands of us an equal honesty, that allows us to do the best job that we can.”
In many ways, Cady, who has three grandchildren, is an old-fashioned doctor. For the last 15 years, he made home visits.
“I have been to a couple of home deliveries after the baby was born,” he explained. “I’ve done that for 15 years. Today’s midwife home delivery programs are very good, so I rarely would do home visits anymore.”
When asked what he will miss most about his job, he replied, “the joy of holding babies and seeing longtime patients become parents themselves.”
Cady has never been one to give up easily. Now that he’s retiring, he said he would like to spend some time learning how to write fiction.
“I am planning to spend four to five hours every morning writing and reading stuff on how to write,” he said. “I finished one draft of a book, and I am working on the second draft. The drafts are so horrible that it will probably take ten drafts before I finally have something I could submit to an editor. If I get to the point where I have something I can show to an editor, I will have accomplished my objective.”
Knowing Cady as my children’s pediatrician, I find it hard to imagine Cady not accomplishing anything he puts his mind to. Unlike journalists, creative writers are not confined by deadlines, grammar and ruthless editors – the only thing necessary to be a great writer is passion. Whether he caring for a sick child, writing a manuscript or riding his motorcycle (with a helmet) – he does it because he is passionate about it.