After 50 years, Dr. Jackson calls it a day

By Brian Babcock, San Jose Mercury News

Saratogan Dr. Paul Jackson has spent the last 50 years at O’Connor Hospital caring for the lives of others. Now, at 84 years old, Jackson is taking some time for himself.

Jackson was not only an expert cardiologist, say those who know him, but he was also a great colleague, leader and human being.

“Dr. Jackson embodies everything we have come to expect from a masterful medical professional,” said Dr. George Block, chief medical officer at O’Connor. “And that expertise can be found both in and out of his office.”

Jackson was president of the hospital’s medical staff in 1979 and medical director at the Primary Care Clinic in Santa Clara.

He also received the 2007 Vincentian Spirit Award, O’Connor Hospital’s highest honor. The annual award is presented to the physician who translates the hospital’s values of respect, compassionate service, simplicity, advocacy for the poor and inventiveness “to infinity” into everyday practices, the hospital stated in a press release.

“Dr. Jackson has been a significant leader at O’Connor. He showed the rest of us how to live our Vincentian Values. While we will miss him, we all carry his legacy of kind, compassionate care with us every day,” O’Connor Hospital president and CEO James Dover said.

Jackson was also a founding member of the Association of Black Cardiologists in 1974. The nonprofit was started because there were problems, specifically in minority communities, that weren’t being taken care of, such as high blood pressure and hypertension, he said.
Whether practicing medicine or volunteering his time on boards, Jackson said there was never anything else he wanted to do.

“Medicine was always very exciting. It was never a job for me; it was a profession. I was never unhappy at any time,” he said.

Jackson received his doctorate from Ohio State University. He was one of only two African American medical students out of a class of 150 when he began his studies in 1950, he said.

After graduating, Jackson moved to the Bay Area in hopes of a better opportunity to begin his practice. Only 1 percent of the Santa Clara County population was African American in 1962, he said, and there were very few black doctors.

Jackson spoke to four other black doctors in the area who advised him to speak with a “prominent doctor”–who was Caucasian–to see if he would share his calls when he was sick or on vacation.

“The meeting seemed to go well. But when it was ending and he had to make his decision about whether to share his calls with me, he told me, ‘Well, I’m not quite sure my patients would accept that,’ ” Jackson said. “His parting words to me were, ‘Maybe you should try Oakland.’ ”

But Jackson was determined to work at O’Connor Hospital, which had a good reputation.

“That was it,” he said. “I wanted to go to the best hospital.”

And he did eventually land a position and would spend the next five decades at O’Connor. He said he never felt his race was an issue and didn’t receive any big problems from his patients or peers.

There are many things he said he’ll miss about his time with the hospital. The intellectual conversations and camaraderie he shared with his colleagues are part of that. But more than that, he’ll remember the stories, both happy and sad, that unfolded in the hospital rooms.

“Most of all, I’ll remember the patients, because that’s what medicine is all about,” he said. “The people.”