Life’s Twists Lead to Milwaukee, Oncology, Brewers Baseball and a Big-League Gift

Dr. Paul Jacobs (r) and Dr. David King (l).

Two unlikely turns in life led to happy surprises and life-altering detours for Paul A. Jacobs, MD.  As a devoted Dodgers baseball fan growing up on the schoolyard ball diamonds of Brooklyn, he couldn’t have imagined he would switch his allegiance and work for a major league franchise in Milwaukee.  As an orthopaedic physician, he didn’t consider pursuing orthopaedic oncology until after he was asked to join the volunteer faculty at the Marquette University School of Medicine, predecessor to the Medical College of Wisconsin.

One turn guided him to a path of sports medicine. The other led to a specialty in oncology, more than 40 years of volunteer faculty status at Marquette and MCW, and in 2008, a monetary gift to create the Paul A. Jacobs, MD, Endowed Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery at MCW. Newly named to that endowed chair is David M. King, MD, who succeeded Jeffrey P. Schwab, MD, GME ’78, as chair of the department. Dr. Schwab continues his 39 years of service to MCW but left his chair role after 19 years.

“When I first joined the staff of the Medical School, the chair of the orthopaedic surgery department told me I would teach bone pathology, which was a total shock to me, but as a result I became the orthopaedic oncologist for this area,” says Dr. Jacobs, who adds that orthopaedic surgeons in Milwaukee’s tri-county area numbered just 15 in 1961. “We had to do everything because there was no one else to do it. Orthopaedic oncology became a significant part of my practice, which, by coincidence, happens to be Dr. King’s specialty.”

Dr. Jacobs earned his MD from State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, where he met his wife, Betty, a nurse, and completed residencies at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital and New York City’s Hospital for Joint Diseases (HJD). In 1961, hoping to raise a family away from what he calls “the New York City rat race,” Dr. Jacobs accepted a partnership with two other HJD alumni to form Milwaukee Orthopaedic Group, the first group in Wisconsin to have three to five orthopaedic surgeons practicing together.

“I can commute from the suburbs to my office in 11 minutes,” notes Dr. Jacobs. “In New York that’s an hour and a half.”

He began teaching MCW residents and enjoyed it so much that he and Betty hosted annual teaching sessions at their home for senior residents prior to their Orthopaedic Board exams.

In 1971, Dr. Jacobs and his partners were paid a visit by owner Bud Selig and other officials of the fledgling major league baseball club, the Milwaukee Brewers, and Dr. Jacobs went on to spend 25 years as a team physician for the club.

“The players could never imagine that after being at County Stadium until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, I was in the operating room at 7 o’clock the next morning,” recalls Dr. Jacobs. “I had a lot of energy as a young man, but it’s an old story – if you like what you do, you never have to work, and I really never considered it work.”

To help his work-life balance, Dr. Jacobs regularly brought his four daughters to games, sitting behind the Brewers dugout. “In order for me to be on call, the team installed a telephone jack under my seat. Every game I would go with my little telephone, plug it in and sit there with my daughters – so there were side benefits.”

He recalls performing surgery on a pitching prospect dropped by another team, and six months later, clearing the player to be signed by the Brewers. “The first game he pitched was a nine-inning shutout,” Dr. Jacobs shares. “When I get a phone call from the GM, congratulating me on the win, that’s something you don’t forget, as well as all the players whose careers were saved or lengthened.”

Many a time was spent chatting with Selig about the old Dodgers days in Brooklyn, but Dr. Jacobs affirms that “I’m absolutely a Brewers fan.”

He’s also been a big fan of Milwaukee, the lifestyle here, and MCW. “We’ve been very fortunate to be here, and we wanted to contribute something to the community,” he says, having retired from his practice in 2005 but keeping close ties to MCW and creating the endowment for orthopaedic surgery. “The future of orthopaedics is in the hands of the young men and women we’re teaching today, so an endowment with an emphasis on teaching was a good application of that money.”

Dr. Jacobs notes that some people thought his role as a Brewers physician was his only career job, “but it was just a small portion of what I did. It’s a thrill seeing one of your athletes go out and conquer something, but it’s a greater thrill to see one of your cancer patients come back five years later.”

– John Burlingham
MCW Magazine Fall 2016