Dr. Jessica Valceus

For many kids, a visit to the doctor can be scary. But Dr. Jessica Valceus is happy to share that the idea of treating the youngest patients once scared her. Babies are so fragile.

It took an inspiring moment in medical school to shake that fear, and today, Valceus sees infants, children and adolescents exclusively at Novant Health Ballantyne Pediatrics. The clinic sits just two traffic lights from the new Ballantyne Medical Center in Charlotte.

“Kids are way more awesome than adults,” Valceus, 33, said with a laugh. “You never know what you’re going to get out of a kid, especially the younger ones, because they’re so honest. They tend to not complain much, versus adults.”

Valceus discovered early on at Florida State University College of Medicine that surgery was not for her. Later, during a pediatric rotation, a doctor offered Valceus some reassurance she’s never forgotten: An adult’s health doesn’t always get better, but a kid’s almost always does.

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“Next thing I know, I’m going to the pediatric office on a rotation,” Valceus said. “I ended up getting strep throat and pink eye (from the children), and I still wanted to go to work.”

Valceus joined Novant Health Ballantyne Pediatrics in September following her pediatrics residency at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte earlier this year.

Parents want their children to be safe and healthy, and so much of that means surrendering to the judgment of their pediatricians. Valceus’ approach during those sensitive moments?

“I don’t feel like it’s my role to tell parents what to do,” she said. “It’s my role to walk along with them, to figure out what’s best for their child at every stage.”

First impressions

Valceus was 2 when she and her mom moved from Haiti to south Florida. Her mother spoke no English but excelled as a certified nursing assistant who also monitored elderly patients at their homes. Sometimes she took her daughter along. As she grew up, Valceus observed how those patients celebrated her mom’s arrival.

Money was tight—and so were living quarters. She shared a twin bed with her mom at a friend’s place in Boynton Beach. By high school, Valceus kept busy with weightlifting meets (“I could be as equally strong as a guy,” she remembers thinking). Her mom didn’t make it to many because she sacrificed every hour working. Her mother’s dedication inspired Valceus to one day care for people, too.

Putting young women at ease

A big part of Valceus’ day-to-day role involves speaking with developing girls.

“I personally like adolescents because there’s so much change from being a very dependent person to finally finding your voice,” she said.

As a former Big Brothers Big Sisters of America mentor to teen moms, Valceus’ volunteering shaped how she now approaches pre-teens with the topics of menstruation and sex.

“I look primarily to parents at that time to start having those conversations,” she said. “And when they’re a little bit older and the parents have stepped out of the room, I have that opportunity to talk about the importance of sexual and reproductive health.”

Implicit bias (meaning automatic or unintentional) creates disparities in maternal health care for Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the risk of dying from a pregnancy triple that of white mothers. Valceus said that’s why it’s essential patients feel comfortable with their providers.

“Even for myself, I look for Black female doctors,” said Valceus, who represents the 5 percent of pediatricians in the country who are Black. “It is nice to be seen, and it’s nice to see someone who looks like you and can hopefully understand the world like you.”

Up at 5 a.m. to lift weights

Much of Valceus’ world revolves around self-discipline. She’s up every morning at 5 o’clock and sticks to a strict weightlifting regimen: Quads and glutes on Sundays, back and chest on Mondays, legs on Tuesdays, and arms on Wednesdays.

“You’ve got to put yourself first before the day takes it away from you,” Valceus said. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite when I’m trying to encourage adolescents to be active for their own physical and mental well-being.”

As a kid she absorbed how her mom’s interactions with the oldest patients brought them joy. Today that ethic sticks with Valceus in every conversation she has with a child and their parents.

“I try to help prevent the things that can happen in the future by being straightforward now,” Valceus said.