Dr. Frank A. Oski, 53, is pediatrician-in-chief and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, and director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where he oversees the treatment of 6,000 children a year. Oski has done research on children's blood disorders and nutritional deficiencies, establishing a link between Vitamin E deficiency and low birthweight in infants. He is married and the father of three grown children.
I went to medical school reluctantly. I really wanted to be a sports writer. Pediatrics was the last rotation I had, and it was a revelation. The pediatricians on the faculty were the people who seemed to be enjoying themselves most. And that's always been a touchstone of my life. Can I get up every morning -- or at least most mornings -- and look forward to my day? If you can't do that, you're probably doing the wrong thing.
Pediatricians tend as a group to remain childish themselves. We're optimistic; we're certainly not cynical. We have to be optimistic because we're always looking to the future, and the impact of what we're doing pays off in the future.
I don't think the practice of pediatrics grinds you down, because you see so many good things. You see children who get better. You see children who were patients graduating from college. That is a powerful feeling. The average internist does not see some 7-year-old who he's labored hard to save doing something magnificent 15 years later.
We don't see many children dying of the diseases that used to kill them.
Now we're confronted with other major problems, like prematurity, much of which is contributed to by teen-age pregnancy. In 20 years, pediatricians will continue to be concerned about making life better for children and optimizing their growth and development. If that involves wrestling with the problems of teen-age pregnancy and substance abuse, and trying to get them to refrain from smoking, then we'll be doing that.
But it's hard to see immediate rewards and outcomes in those kinds of things. I suspect that it will take more than pediatricians to reduce the incidence of prematurity, but somehow, someday we'll stumble upon it and reduce the incidence from 8 percent down to 2 or 3 percent, and our neonatal intensive care units will become like ghost towns.
We serve as advocates for children. That's one of the primary roles of pediatricians in this society -- to stand up and defend kids and kids' rights. Pediatricians convinced state legislatures to institute madatory safety belt rules for kids. Pediatricians have pushed for the maintenance of school lunch programs; pediatricians are carrying the ball about encouraging the banning of smoking because of the risks to children of passive smoking. We're the ones who concerned ourselves about trampoline injuries; we're the ones that talked about the hazards of smokeless tobacco. Pediatricians took the lead in trying to eradicate lead poisoning. We're interested in prevention. Everybody else is just learning the importance of prevention. We learned about it a long time ago.