What was your biggest obstacle?
In many ways, I think my path has been pretty smoothI have had great support, even when I chose to make my life complicated. The scheduling and the timing has probably been the greatest obstacle, especially when my children were small and there were long days and nights away, and often the sense of never quite catching up."
How have you made a difference?
As a primary care pediatrician, I hope of course that I have made a difference in the lives of my patients and their familiesmany small differences, the occasional big difference. Through working with Reach Out and Read (ROR) over the past eight years or so, I feel I have been part of a truly significant change in pediatric practice. Reach Out and Read is a national program which makes books and advice about reading to young children part of every well-child visit. Through the program, doctors and nurse-practitioners are trained in how to help parents understand the importance of reading to young childreneven to infants and toddlers before they can talkand we give each child a book at every check-up from six months through five yearsten books in the home by kindergarten! There are now more fourteen hundred ROR sites around the country, in health centers, hospitals, public health clinics, and practices which serve children growing up in poverty. Through my work as medical director of the National Center, I have thus been part of the growing incorporation of books and literacy-related advice into well-child care. In addition, by helping ROR programs flourish around the country and working to find books and book money for those programs, we have helped get millions of books into the hands and the homes of children.
Who was/were your mentor(s)?
As a medical student, my clinical tutor was Dr. Pearl O'Rourke, a pediatric intensivist, who inspired me with her intelligence, her humor, and her passion for pediatrics. As a resident, I had excellent advisors and mentorsDr. Orah Platt and Dr. Jane Newberger, both at Children's Hospital Boston. As a fellow, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Jerome O. Klein, a phenomenal teacher and mentor for me and for many others in the field of pediatric infectious diseases. And in my work with Reach Out and Read, my mentor has been the chief of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, who was one of the founders of the original program, Dr. Barry Zuckerman. He has both trusted me and encouraged meand helped me understand the ways that pediatrics can go beyond traditional boundaries to include social policy and advocacy, and improve children's lives.
How has your career evolved over time? After my pediatric infectious diseases fellowship, I started working in primary care at a neighborhood health center, and over time, my involvement in Reach Out and Read has grown to fill at least half of my time. I continue to practice at Dorchester House, and in fact I run a small ROR program therein addition to running the national center which supports and sustains approximately fourteen hundred programs around the country. Certainly, as ROR has grown, my career has shifted and opened to include new roles (national advocacy, running a non-profit organization...). In addition, I have been very lucky that I have been able to continue to work in the field of pediatric infectious diseases, doing some consult service attending and working in the International Clinic so that I can stay current with travel medicine and refugee assessment. My career as a writer developed along with my medical careerI started writing about medical school while I was in medical school, and continued to write through residency. I continue to write about medicine, and to write in the voice of a doctor, writing, for example, parental advice articles. I had written fiction all my life, and initially had no intention of letting medical settings and medical issues take over my fiction as well as my non-fiction and journalism, but over time I can see that my fiction has also become increasingly concerned with issues and stories that arise from medicine, and from my pediatrician's perspective on the world. Writers and doctors, I would argue, have many overlapping traitsa fascination with the many stories out there in the world, an eagerness to probe for detail and complexity, a willingness to reformulate and retell. I suspect that by now my writing and doctoring "selves" are profoundly intertwinedand certainly I hope to continue doing both jobs, with their particular challenges and satisfactions.