Dr. Sherri Thomas, a Bowling Green pediatrician, is the living embodiment of the old adage, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” When she was 34, despite having four young children, Thomas returned to college to pursue medicine. Years later, she is one of three developmental/behavioral pediatricians in the area and the residency director at Mercy Children’s Hospital.
“I had always had an interest in medicine. I started off as a medical assistant, and I stayed home with my kids for a couple years,” Thomas says. “I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t try to pursue medicine, I will never be satisfied. If I try and I can’t do it because I have four children, then at least I will know I tried.’”
Pursuing a medical degree while raising a family
Thomas began by taking undergraduate classes to meet admission requirements. After two years of part-time classes, she was accepted into medical school. “It all fell into place, one thing after another,” she says.
When Thomas began medical school, she and her husband, Chet, had four kids, then all still school age: Derek was 11; Manya, 10; Katie, 7; and Laura, 5. On top of juggling four kids, their school work, and their extracurricular schedules, Derek, who they had adopted at age 4, had special needs that required ongoing medical attention.
“My husband and I always wanted to do something bigger than ourselves— something that made a positive impact,” Thomas explains. “Before we settled down to have a family, we were volunteers in Alaska for three years. Our daughter, Manya, was born in Alaska, and when we returned in 1982, my daughter [was 6 months old].”
Expanding their family
The Thomases desired to make family their primary focus once Manya was born, but they also wanted to continue their humanitarian work in some way. Their answer was adoption. “There were so many special needs kids who needed homes. We found Derek, who was just a few months older than Manya,” Thomas recalls.
Derek had substantial medical needs due to abuse from his biological family. He was taken by Child Protective Services at just 5 weeks old, but the damage was already done. Derek, who is legally blind, paralyzed on one side, and suffers from frequent seizures, was in foster care from infancy until the Thomases added him to their family.
“On our way back from picking Derek up from his foster parents, I found out I was pregnant (with Katie). Katie was 9 months old when the next child [Laura] was born. In five years, I had four children,” Thomas says with a chuckle.
Developing a professional niche
Once Thomas began working as a pediatrician, parents gravitated to her with their questions about and concerns with developmental issues.
“People in the community knew of Derek, and the people in our practice started coming to me with their questions. Because of Derek, I had experience with schools and intervening and knowing where some of the resources were,” Thomas reflects.
After 10 years of working as a general pediatric doctor, Thomas needed and wanted to know more about developmental and behavioral pediatrics, so she returned to school once again. Three years later, Thomas became one of the three specialized developmental/behavioral pediatric doctors in the area.
Sherri Thomas’ story reminds us that we are limited only by the stories we tell ourselves. It’s never too late to follow our dreams, and Thomas is living, laughing proof of that.
What’s your favorite activity to do with your family?
When the kids were young, camping. Now, we have family campouts once a year. The highlight of my year is to plan the family campout.
Best holiday memory you have from when you were a kid? Barbecues on the Fourth of July. My dad always grilled out and we could play outside and chase the fireflies.
What’s your go-to activity when you finally have a few minutes to yourself? Gardening when the weather is good. I’m currently teaching myself to knit.
Describe your life in five words or less. Active, thoughtful, focused.
What is your favorite Bowling Green hangout? Grounds for Thought, a bookstore and coffee shop.
Describe BG in three sentences? Small, friendly community. I like the small, local shops all along Main Street. I’d rather spend my money there as opposed to the large department stores.