As she enters the examination room with her patient and the door closes behind her, Dr. Jennifer Polley steps into a space she considers sacred.
Thirty years ago, Polley was a founding member of Northwest Pediatric Center in Centralia on Cooks Hill Road, which has since expanded into three buildings and added two other clinic locations in Rochester and Chehalis.
After decades of serving children in the community, Polley is retiring next Tuesday, the week of her 67th birthday.
Asked what prompted her retirement, Polley said she just had a gut feeling that it was time. In the life of an organization, she added, there comes a point when a founder should realize what they brought to the table was good, and now it’s time to step back and let other people’s talents take over.
Plus, she said, being a health care worker during the COVID-19 pandemic has been exhausting.
“We have, I think, around 70 people here (on staff). And then you think, ‘That’s a lot of lives.’ Plus, whatever 60 or 70,000 patients. It feels like a really important responsibility,” Polley said of navigating the pandemic, adding later: “By the grace of God, I will say, we came out the other side of it, really in as good a place as we could be.”
She credited the community’s faith in the practice for its success through hard times. Since it was founded by Polley and Dr. James Miller in 1992, Northwest Pediatric Center’s mission has been to continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in the community, with a holistic, integrated approach for each patient, Polley said.
“(It’s a) group of people that really are mission driven, and really care about people,” she said of her staff. “It’s so cool to have been part of this until now and to walk away and say, ‘Man, these people have got it.’ They are going to do some things better, they’re going to have new ideas. But the core stays the same.”
Polley also said that although she’s been at the practice longer than anyone, several staff members have worked there for over two decades.
Jennifer Polley spent the first 25 years of her life in New York and attended University of Rochester School of Medicine. Her undergraduate degree was in French literature philosophy, but that’s “a whole ‘nother story,” she said.
Three years into medical school, Polley felt the call to go into pediatrics.
“Kids, two things: They are so full of wonder. Like, we should be full of wonder,” she said. “The other thing — or, the two other things that I love — is that there is hope. There’s always hope with younger people. The third thing is you get to step into young people’s lives in a time where they’re just really deconstructing, reconstructing, trying to figure it out.”
After moving to Lewis County, Polley first worked at Chehalis Children’s Clinic before going off on her own.
Citing the Providence Hospital cornerstone, “The love of Christ compels us,” Polley said starting her own practice allowed her to be motivated by that mission in a “generative” and personal way.
“The cool thing with starting your own practice — I don’t know if you’ve studied French philosophy — there’s this phrase, tabula rasa: blank slate. You’ve got this blank slate,” she said.
But with new beginnings comes trial and error, even scariness, she said. Polley routinely came up against what she felt was the hardest part of pediatrics besides watching kids suffer: seeing kids who, for whatever reason, don’t believe in themselves.
Polley’s practice has since revolved around every method she could think of to combat those false narratives. Every person is so valuable, she said, and it could be a part of her work to help them realize it.
“You’ll hear people, they’ll say, ‘My doctor didn’t even listen to me’ or ‘They didn’t even put their stethoscope on me.’ It takes two. Just the simple act of, if you’re talking to someone and you sit down, they feel more listened to. Why wouldn’t you do that?” Polley asked.
For the last two or three years, Polley has stepped away from seeing patients and taken on more administrative roles with Northwest Pediatrics, which allowed her to implement more creative strategies.
She said she misses the relationships and sharing the “sacred space” listening to kids. But, in retirement, Polley is looking forward to getting serious rest.
After resting, she intends to do lots of adventuring, including backpacking, cross-country skiing, exploring other countries and cultures, and “anything we can do to be outside.”
“Maybe I will become that part-time park ranger,” Polley said with a chuckle. “No, but, you know. Just sort of savor what has been the privilege of being here. I don’t want to rush around and not take time to really appreciate how fortunate I’ve been. … I have no doubt there’s some really exciting stuff ahead. I do trust God for that.”