Doing it her way: After impoverished childhood, derm is 'rich' in ways that matter to her

August 1, 2009
Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton

Lisette Hilton is president of Words Come Alive, based in Boca Raton, Florida.

While some colleagues might disagree, dermatologist Carol Lee Isaacs, M.D., thinks she lives a privileged life.

Her simple country solo practice leaves plenty of time for the volunteering and family she finds so important. The living she makes, all the while shunning the business practices that drive many dermatology offices, is more than adequate, she says.

However, it hasn't always been such a rich existence. Life today is a stark contrast to Dr. Isaacs' childhood, during which she remembers being so poor that she lived with her family in an old Army tent, eating week-old bread.

The family survived in that old Army tent through one Michigan winter. Malnourished, Dr. Isaacs and her sister developed rickets and scurvy by the following spring. A local country veterinarian became their pediatrician, making house calls and delivering bottles of animal vitamins and minerals.

"Our second summer there, my parents planted a garden. We would not have to starve again, and we never did," she says.

Despite it all, Dr. Isaacs says that she never realized she was a poor child.

"My parents shared what little we had with whoever was neediest. I remember spending weekends one summer helping my parents fix up a shack for a family with 10 children," Dr. Isaacs says.

Dr. Isaacs took to reading, and by the fifth grade, she had read every book in her one-room school library. The dermatologist especially loved nursing adventure books, so she decided to pursue a nursing career. When she made the decision to go to medical school a few years after graduating from nursing school, her original intent was to be an emergency room physician.

"Luckily, while doing an elective, an astute family practice physician advised me: 'Don't be a fool; be a dermatologist,'" she says.