And Baby Makes … Four

If you set out to design the perfect pediatrician, what qualities would you seek? You’d require a doctor who is endlessly patient with the angst of new, jittery parents; one who will cheerfully take a midnight call about diaper rash and who, to paraphrase famously hypochondriacal playwright George S. Kaufman, will be home studying medicine when he isn’t examining your child. A combination, come to think of it, of Marcus Welby and my own childhood pediatrician, the wise, laconic Sam Bernstein, known as Dr. BeBe.

Which brings us to another truth: Pediatricians, more so than other doctors, are family. The ones profiled here aren’t the only great pediatricians in New York, just ten of the top practitioners in the field, ones whose patients – and their parents – find in them the qualities I was looking for when I became pregnant, even if their personal styles differ (sometimes dramatically). We asked school nurses, other doctors, and, of course, patients and parents. When making your own selection, don’t be shy about interviewing several candidates and asking lots of questions: Will the doctor make house calls? How hard will it be to see your doctor if it’s a large practice? Are the referrals nearby or on the other side of town? Is he or she a member of your HMO (even doctors within practices can differ on this)? Does the doctor treat from infancy through adolescence?

Be sure they’re board-certified in pediatrics; ask how long they’ve been in practice and whether they have a medical-school affiliation (a tie that, while not essential, makes it more likely that the doctor will be versed in the current literature and the newest treatments). And trust your instincts: One doctor’s examining-room style may be perfect for your best friend but all wrong for you and your child. You want a doctor you’ll feel comfortable with over the long haul.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the waiting room. Given the amount of time you’re likely to be spending in it, you’ll want to feel comfortable there over the long haul, too.

Laura Popper
116 East 66th Street

Practice: Birth through adolescence
HMOs: None
Hospital affiliation: Mt. Sinai Medical Center
Associate: Dr. Jacalyn Shafer
House calls: Yes
Bribes: Stickers, Blow Pops,
Tootsie Roll Pops, Ring Pops

There’s a buck in it for any kid who can count to five faster than Laura Popper can give a shot. She’s so quick with a needle that come flu season, a sizable adult contingent eagerly rolls up its sleeve, and in Popper’s almost 25 years on the job only one kid has pocketed that dollar bill. “I let her win,” insists the doctor, 55, who has short hair, a relaxed, confident manner, and a sense of humor that finds expression in the mat just outside the front door – it’s got the image of a reclining Bugs Bunny and the words eh, what up doc? – and in the sign posted in a small, tidy waiting room stocked with toys, books, and videotapes: children left unattended will be towed away at owner’s expense.

Often sick as a child herself, Popper decided to become a doctor because of her own pediatrician. She decided to become a pediatrician during medical school, when she was making rounds at Babies Hospital with a crusty old professor. “There was a baby crying in a crib,” she recalls, “and the professor, not breaking stride, picked the kid up, took him in his arms, patted him on the back, took him along with us, and completely quieted him.”

Popper places an extremely high value on quiet. “My philosophy of medicine,” she says, “is if you shut up and listen, your patient is going to tell you what’s wrong. If a kid comes in with terrible stomach pains, do you immediately think of all the terrible medical things? Well, you do think that: Do they have ulcers, colitis, appendicitis? But first you have to look at the kid and listen, and sometimes you don’t have to do anything else.”

“There are two things about Laura that make her special,” says the actress Tracy Pollan, the mother of an 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old twin girls, all of whom Popper relates to with ease. “She makes you a partner in the well-being of your children. She’s interested in hearing what I believe might be relevant. She’s very smart and has the courage of her convictions. If she doesn’t think your child needs a lot of tests, she won’t send you for them just to cover her ass.”

When Popper diagnosed the ultimately fatal cancer of 3 1/2-year-old Andrew Jeffries, his parents, Leslie and Chuck, took him to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for treatment. “Laura continued to keep closely in touch with us,” says Leslie, the mother of two other children. “Last year, when my daughter was 8, she was afraid she was getting the same disease that had killed her brother, and Laura took her very seriously, explaining about neuroblastoma, and gave her a complete physical. She said, ‘Erin, I don’t think you have this and let me tell you why. But if you still want me to take blood, I will.’ It was very impressive. My daughter needed the reassurance, and Laura understood that. She believes children have something to say and she’s never dismissive of them – or of me.”

Paula Prezioso
317 East 34th Street
20 Plaza Street East
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Practice: Birth through adolescence
HMOs: Most Hospital affiliations: NYU Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center
Partners: Drs. Sol Zimmerman, Harris Burstin, David Horwitz, Ellen Putter, Debra Greenstein, Gweneth Levy, Aviva Oppenheim
House calls: No
Bribes: Stickers

Emily Listfield knew she’d chosen the right pediatrician at least two months before her daughter Sasha was born. She’d had “a very problematic pregnancy” that included surgery, and she was deeply concerned about the effect of the anesthesia on her unborn child. “I was seven months pregnant when I interviewed Dr. Prezioso, and she was very reassuring,” recalls Listfield. “And when she examined Sasha after she was born, she remembered the conversation we had and she remembered my personal story.”

Prezioso, 39, has continued to impress Listfield. “When Sasha was 3, she was very tall for her age and very thin and her knees were splayed. It was as if she hadn’t grown into herself,” she says. “I hadn’t really noticed it, but Dr. Prezioso did, and she would have Sasha walk around so she could look at her. She said, ‘In another era they might have put her legs in braces. But I think you should put her in ballet class and have her ride her bike,’ both of which I did, and the problem was solved in a practical, nondisruptive way. Dr. Prezioso doesn’t just see the sore throat; she sees the total child.”

Prezioso credits this familiarity to good listening skills and the ability to make connections between her own life and the lives of families in her practice. “My father was in the Police Department, and I had a father come in who was a brand-new cop and we talked a little about that and about the police picnics we’d been on. And when that family calls me, I’ll remember, ‘Oh, he’s a police officer who’s in the same precinct my father was in,’ and then I’ll dig down to the next level and remember that he has three children, and then down to the next level and I remember one of them recently had a bad ear infection. It’s sort of a mnemonic device and it means you aren’t always having to check patients’ charts, which makes them feel special.”

Outside the office, Dr. Prezioso, a divorced mother, tends to her own two kids; teaches at NYU, an activity that “forces you to keep up on things and know the current literature”; and worries. “That’s the Italian side of me,” she says, laughing. “I’ve had situations where I’ve been dealing with a family and I can’t stop thinking about the kid. I worry whether I should be doing some other treatment. I worry along with the parents, but they don’t know I’m worrying.

“To a parent, diaper rash or colic is a crisis, and they come to a doctor not just for help in curing it but for help in calming down. They want to be told everything is going to be okay. And in a sense, isn’t that what we all want?”

Danielle Laraque
Mt. Sinai School of Medicine
1 Gustave Levy Place

Practice: Birth through adolescence
HMOs: Most Hospital affiliation: Mt. Sinai
Partners: Fifteen at the hospital
House calls: No
Bribes: Stickers

When Danielle Laraque meets a new patient family, she shakes hands. When she knows them a little better, say by the second visit, it’s hugs from then on (unless, of course, you’re not the hugging sort). But Laraque’s embrace goes beyond hugs. In treating 14-year-old Brandon Stevens for a sleep disorder, she sent the family for consultations at several hospitals, “wherever she thought we would get the best care,” says Brandon’s mother, Cynthia. “She talks to you and explains things. She’ll draw a diagram if I don’t understand. I can call her at her home at whatever time. When my son was in the hospital for surgery, Dr. Laraque’s son was also in the hospital, and she still came to see Brandon. Unbelievable.”

Laraque, 46, division chief of general pediatrics at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, probably would say there’s nothing unbelievable about that at all. It’s just part of the job she chose for herself at the age of 12. Her practice includes indigent families and impoverished patients who deal with a host of medical issues every day. “The first question I ask is, ‘Do you have any questions for me today?’ ” says Laraque, sitting in her crammed office at Mt. Sinai. “I think it’s really important to address families’ concerns first, and let them set the agenda. People’s lives are pretty complex. If we’re going to address health in its broadest terms, we need to know what’s important to children and families.

“I have a 2-month-old who comes in with his parents, and I know my role is to ask about the baby’s nutrition,” Laraque continues, “to make sure the home is safe, to immunize the baby, to do a good physical exam. I have to do that at every visit. But let’s say there’s a major crisis at home and I never gave the family a chance to discuss that. I don’t think I’d be doing as good a job. I can’t miss a case of pneumonia; that’s part of good care. But it is my role to assist the family in any way they might find useful. When you think about it, that’s what doctors did 50 years ago.”

Practicing medicine is one thing; dispensing it quite another matter. “We overmedicate for many things,” says Laraque. “If I don’t think an antibiotic is necessary, I’ll explain my reasons.”

“Danielle is an enormously talented clinician,” says Frederick J. Suchy, chairman of Mt. Sinai’s Department of Pediatrics. “And she’s enormously sensitive to the needs of kids and their families. She’s a real advocate.”

Frankly, Brandon Stevens would prefer that the word about Dr. Laraque not spread too far. When his cousins started going to see her, “Brandon was getting really jealous,” says Cynthia. “He kept saying, ‘Mom, why did you tell them about her? She’s my doctor.’ “

Max Kahn
390 West End Avenue
495 Central Park Avenue,

Practice: Birth through college-age
HMOs: Cigna; PHS; Oxford (with approval)
Hospital affiliations: NYU, Lenox Hill Hospital, White Plains Hospital Center Partners: Drs. Michael Levi, Michael Traister, Herbert Lazarus, Jacqueline Cosme, Jane Guttenberg
House calls: Yes

Bribes: Stickers, tattoos, etc.

Max Kahn remembers with blinding clarity the exact moment he decided pediatrics was for him. There he was, doing an internal-medicine rotation in med school that involved giving an older woman a pelvic exam. “The lady said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ And I said, ‘I’m almost done,’ and she said, ‘No, doctor, I really have to go.’ And so she did. I thought, If I have to get wet, I’d rather be gotten wet by children.”

Judging by the parade of prams and strollers coming in and out of this busy Upper West Side practice, Kahn gets plenty of chances to be a target. There are lots of people in the waiting room of the old-fashioned, lived-in-looking office (there’s a separate waiting room for sick kids). “Sometimes you can go and wait for a significant period of time,” acknowledges David Frankel, the father of a 5-year-old and a 16-month-old. “But once you get in there, you get all the time you need and you never feel you’re being rushed.” To further ease things, the practice has an e-mail address where patients can schedule appointments and request prescription refills.

“We have a situation with our younger daughter where she hasn’t started walking, and we’re crazy West Side parents,” Frankel continues. “Max told us for several months to calm down. And at one point he had us come when office hours were over and watched her play around the reception area. He never charged us for it; he just wanted to look at her. Eventually, he sent us to a neurologist, and the bottom line is, we think everything is going to be fine. And I haven’t had to call him twenty times and say, ‘Have you talked to this doctor or that doctor?’ He does it, he interprets what the other doctors have been telling us, and he’s called just to see how we reacted to the people he sent us to. All through it he’s been both reassuring and factual.”

One of the most difficult things Kahn, 53, has had to learn, he says, is “that you don’t always answer the question that’s asked, because often that isn’t the real question. When a parent says, ‘Gee, Doctor, what could this be?,’ you could recite a list of horrible illnesses. Obviously you don’t but, instead, say what you think is going on and when you’ll know more.” With his quick smile and soothing voice, he can instantly lower the anxiety level in the tensest of situations.

For Kahn, the great joy of the job is watching his patients grow up. And he recalls with pleasure certain points of the journey: allaying the anxiety of first-time parents so they can fully enjoy their newborn; forging a link with a slightly skittish 3-year-old. “I think I appeal to people who like to understand the reasoning behind things,” he says. “What I do mostly is explain my thinking. But in pediatrics you can’t do that without some hand-holding. If I find myself saying, ‘Don’t worry,’ I know I’m wasting my breath. I’m a parent, too.”

Marie Keith

568 Broadway, near Prince Street

Practice: Birth through adolescence
HMOs: Oxford, Cigna, PHS, PHCS Hospital affiliations: St. Vincents Hospital, Beth Israel
House calls: No
Partner: Dr. Rob Saken
Bribes: Stickers, tattoos, bracelets

The birthday party for a 2-year-old named Nina is just getting under way in the parenting center at Soho Pediatrics, which means it’s going to overlap with the childbirth class at noon, but Marie Keith takes it all in cheery stride. There is a turtle sculpture on the floor that the children use for a slide, paintings on the walls of the examination rooms courtesy of some artists in the ‘hood, and some terrific photos on the walls of the large, bright reception area, courtesy of Keith, who with her dangling purple earrings and purple jumpsuit looks like the cool mom we all wish we’d had.

“My philosophy was shaped by living downtown,” says Keith, 52, the mother of two grown children. “When I started 21 years ago, it was a very artsy area and people were interested in doing things in nontraditional ways. What I realized in taking care of children is that there are a lot of different ways that the care could be approached. Let’s say you had a child with recurrent ear infections. The teaching I had was to use antibiotics, but a lot of parents here weren’t in favor of that. They might suggest homeopathic medicine. I’d say, ‘I’m not very well versed, but we can try it, and please keep me apprised.’ I obviously wouldn’t let anyone do anything bad for their child, but I would allow for some flexibility.”

It seems an effective prescription. “Dr. Keith’s a modern-day version of the old-fashioned pediatrician,” says Jeannie Park, the mother of two young children. “She’s warm and kind and gentle and remembers previous illnesses and problems you’ve had. And when I’m there with one child, she’ll ask about the other one.”

“She really listens,” says Shanthi Karamcheti, the mother of a 4-year-old and 10-month-old twins. “With doctors I saw in the past, you would tell them something and they’d pretend to listen, or you think they’re listening but they’re not.”

When Karamcheti was in the delivery room with the twins, Keith came by on rounds and, knowing of the severe food allergies of Karamcheti’s 4-year-old, made certain the twins were immediately put on a special formula. Two months later, when the twins were unable to keep food down, Keith sent them to specialists who diagnosed pyloric stenosis (a blockage between the stomach and intestines). The twins had surgery and are doing fine, and through it all, “Dr. Keith has been such a wonderful support,” says Shanthi.

“When you take care of kids, there’s something you get that’s different from other fields,” Keith says. “They’re growing and dynamic. Most often their illnesses get better. I saw a 19-year-old today whom I’d seen since infancy. You see how well they do, and you know that you took care of them along the way.”

Amy Glaser
44 Eighth Avenue

Park Slope, Brooklyn

295 Clinton Street

718-636-0999 (both offices)

Practice: Birth through adolescence
HMOs: Most

Hospital affiliations: Long Island College, NYU
Partner: Dr. Philippa Gordon House calls: No

Bribes: Stickers

Recently, when a little girl came to Amy Glaser’s office for a urine culture, she just wasn’t hearing the call of nature according to everyone else’s schedule. “So,” says Glaser, 48, “I set her to work behind the desk, stamping forms. That’s the kind of office it is.”

Which is exactly the way her patients like it. They talk about Glaser’s calm, her warmth, her reassuring manner, her inspired goofiness with the kids. When 2-year-old Owen Sullivan was diagnosed with asthma a few weeks ago, his mother, Laura, figured the little boy was condemned to a future of hospital stays and the sidelines of sports. “As a parent, you think the worst, and Dr. Glaser said that with proper treatment that didn’t have to be the case. She said, ‘So what sports do you want Owen to play?,’ and that’s exactly what I needed to hear.

“She was trying to teach Owen to use the inhaler, so she started with ‘And now you’re going to play fireman and you have to put on the mask,’ and she starts saying ‘Ding, ding, ding.’ She said, ‘Oh, we have to put out the fire,’ to get Owen to inhale the way he needed to.”

“There is no set model of treatment,” says Glaser, who had considered a career in child psychiatry before determining there were more chances for happy outcomes in pediatrics. “Every kid is different. Every family is different. We try to individualize care to what we’re dealing with.”

David Belt knows from different and individualized. His wife, Antonia, had given birth to their daughter Stella seven weeks early by emergency C-section. Then Antonia developed a blood clot that sent her back to the hospital, and the jaundice Stella was born with was getting worse. “Dr. Glaser was very calm and very respectful of what we were going through and didn’t want to rush Stella back to the hospital to have her go under the lights for her jaundice, even though that’s what most doctors would have done,” says David. Instead, she kept doing tests for the infant’s bilirubin level (a screen for liver function) and suggesting the family alternate between breast milk and formula. When Dr. Glaser ultimately decided hospitalization was necessary, she called ahead to make sure the doctor she knew and trusted stayed beyond the end of his shift; and she herself transported Stella and stayed around to make sure she got put in the right hands. Even though she was supposed to be off the next day, she came to the hospital to examine her. Stella was able to go home two days later. Mom and 7 1/2-month-old daughter are both doing just fine.

Cynthia Pegler

992 Fifth Avenue, at 81st Street

Practice: Adolescents, predominantly girls, and young adults
HMOs: None
Hospital affiliations: New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Lenox Hill
Partners: None
House calls: Yes
Bribes: M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses

Patients of Cynthia Pegler can spot each other immediately: They’re the ones with the excruciatingly cool tattoo Band-Aids. The Curious George model is in high demand. For that matter, so is Pegler. “She’s really easy to talk to,” says Shira Gasarch, 16, whose sister is also a patient. “She makes you feel like your own person. She called me on my line to give me the results of a blood test. Obviously, I told my mom about it, but I like that Dr. Pegler called me directly.”

When 18-year-old Courtney Singer went to Dr. Pegler for her first visit, what struck her, she remembers, was that “we just sat in her office for an hour talking. It was more than just a medical history. She wanted to make me more comfortable with her. It worked, because the next week I was calling her with questions. I speak to her once a week now. She definitely knew how to treat me medically, but she also knew how to treat me emotionally.”

It probably helps that Pegler, 40, looks young enough to be her patients’ contemporary. It also helps that she’s perfectly comfortable exchanging tips about the care and handling of curly hair and is very admiring of current teen trends in eye shadow. More significantly, she makes it clear by her manner that she can be trusted, that she respects confidentiality.

At the beginning of medical school, Pegler thought she wanted to be a pediatrician; by the end she thought she wanted to be a child psychiatrist. In many ways her practice combines the two disciplines. “I like to see myself as an advocate,” she says, “trying to help my patients make wise choices and allowing them to realize a doctor can be your ally.”

Pegler often finds that a routine appointment can take an unexpected turn. “Someone will say, ‘Oh, while I’m here, remember how you said I could get birth-control pills from you?’

“Some people will say to me, ‘I have normal, healthy teenagers. They don’t need to come to you.’ They think my practice is just problem kids,” says Pegler – who does, in fact, deal with her share of eating disorders and wrought-up psyches. “They don’t understand that I’m a transitional doctor – the one between the pediatrician and the internist. And I’ll say to these people, ‘Well, most of my patients are normal, healthy teenagers.’ “

Ralph I. Lopez

418 East 71st Street

Practice: Adolescents and young adults
HMOs: None
Hospital affiliations: New York-Presbyterian, Lenox Hill
Partners: None
House calls: No
Bribes: “We don’t have lollipops, we don’t have Kisses – but we do have condoms.”

“I have a simple policy,” says Ralph Lopez, 59, who comes across as the really smart, really tough-minded teacher who taught you more – and cared about you more – than anybody else. “We start on time. I say, ‘I respect your time and I expect you to respect mine.’ ” Other aspects of Lopez’s simple policy: He won’t ask embarrassing, confidential questions when the parental units are in the room. “That immediately establishes a boundary for them,” he says. “I hand a prescription to the kids directly, and they usually hand it right over to Mom, and that’s okay. The point is, I want them to understand that this is something going on between us. And I never leave without returning the kids’ calls.”

Lopez trained in pediatrics but, rooting about for a subspecialty during a fellowship, “I didn’t find an organ that I liked better than any other organ. Literally, I couldn’t come up with the notion that the heart was more fun than the liver or the kidney.” Fortunately, there was a program in adolescent medicine, and suddenly Lopez had his life’s work. In the intervening years, he has treated everything from strep throat to infected body piercings and has helped kids deal with homosexuality, pregnancy, drinking, eating disorders, and drug problems. “The art,” he says, “is being able to listen in such a way that you come across as ‘tellable.’ Will a teenager tell you things? I found that I loved the age group. I loved the one-on-one – and I didn’t even mind the parents.”

“I was very sick myself at one point, and we explained it all to the kids and thought they understood everything,” says one parent, whose four children have all been Lopez’s patients. “Well, it turned out they didn’t know what we were talking about. My son, who was 12, called from school one day and said he couldn’t concentrate because he was afraid of what might happen to me before he got home. So I took him to Dr. Lopez, who spent an hour going over what chemotherapy was and what cancer cells looked like. And my son was able to come out and feel like he had control over his feelings. So for that I will always be grateful.”

“I think he’s sensitive to an adolescent’s needs,” says Robin Meltzer, who switched her 14-year-old son, Martin, from another pediatrician to Dr. Lopez to help him start taking responsibility for handling his asthma. “I didn’t want to be the one saying to him all the time, ‘Take your puffs, take your puffs.’ My son knows he can call Lopez any time, that he’ll get a call back, and that he’ll be respectful of confidentiality.”

“I feel he’s more realistic about everything than my pediatrician, who I felt just walked around sensitive topics,” adds Martin. “Dr. Lopez talked to me about fitness. He talked to me about school and life and made me feel he was on my side. He made it seem like he understood how it felt to be 14 and the pressures I’m under.”

Barney Softness
450 West End Avenue,
at 82nd Street; 212-769-3070
2 Fifth Avenue; 212-353-0072

Practice: Birth through late adolescence
HMOs: None
Hospital affiliations: New York-Presbyterian, Lenox Hill
Partners: Drs. Suzanne Rosenfeld, Michael Rosenbaum, Adine Brandes, S. Nena Osorio
House calls: Yes
Bribes: Stickers

Dana Wechsler Linden will tell you, quite simply, that Barney Softness saved her daughter Maya’s life. She will tell you other things about Dr. Softness, about how when Maya and her twin were born three months premature, he was there for her. And about how he was there hugging the family ten days later when Maya’s twin died. Then, three days after Maya was released from New York Hospital’s neonatal unit, “she started turning blue and we rushed over to Barney’s office. They rushed us into a room, I was crying, and he immediately got on the phone to New York Hospital and they didn’t want to take her back, saying she should go to a pediatric ICU. Barney wouldn’t take no for an answer. He said, ‘I’m sending them over and you can turn them away yourself.’ I don’t think many doctors would have put up with the resistance and overcome it the way he did.” Ultimately, the hospital caved, and here Maya is today, for the record a perfectly healthy, normal, regulation-size 4-year-old.

Softness, 46, who looks like a slightly overgrown camp counselor, has the sort of calm, reassuring manner you desperately want from a pediatrician. “Parents say to me, ‘I can’t get you excited about anything.’ And I say, ‘Believe me. I’ll get excited and nervous when I need to be,’ ” he insists.

Softness sees his role, he says, more as adviser than as authority figure. He doesn’t hand out a lot of medicine (unless it’s warranted, of course) or make a lot of pronouncements. “I believe there are many ways to bring up a child. A parent might say, ‘Should I give the baby corn or string beans next?,’ and I say, ‘I don’t care. It doesn’t matter in the big picture.’ It’s also true of minor illnesses. I’m flexible. Some people will say use the inhaler for asthma, others may want the nebulizer. I kind of believe in letting parents do it themselves.

“I do believe my advice is better than your mother’s or your neighbor’s because I tailor my advice to your children’s temperament and what I know about your parenting style. And I also think I’m a very good diagnostician. I can sort of figure out when someone is seriously sick and when they’re not.”

“We’ve had a couple of things with our kids,” says Penelope Pate Greene of her 8-year-old twins, Kyle and Audrey. One in particular has made Softness a household hero: When Kyle, then 4, was making like the Man of Steel in his new Superman duds, he jumped off the bed and got an enormous gash “right in the middle of his beautiful blond head,” recalls Greene. “I called Barney, and I thought he would say, ‘Meet me at the emergency room.’ But he said, ‘Come to my office. I don’t want you to have to go through waiting and worrying at the E.R.’ And he did a gorgeous job of stitching.”

Greene speaks as enthusiastically about Softness’s small talk as about his sewing skills. “He asks the kids what they’re doing in school, and I know in his own way he wants to know if they’re developmentally on target. But he does it in a humorous way. “He’ll say, ‘Are you studying math? Of course you’ve got calculus down now, right?’ And they’ll giggle.

“And,” she adds, “he’s always been smart enough to have the nurses give all the injections.”

Ramon Murphy

1245 Park Avenue, at 96th Street

Practice: Birth through college-age
HMOs: Very limited
Hospital affiliation: Mt. Sinai
Partners: Drs. John Larsen, Signe Larson, Beth Cohen, Daniel
House calls: Yes
Bribes: Lollipops

Ramon Murphy likes to describe himself as “an obsessive-compulsive twit.” Well, he’s half-right. Fortunately, this quite enchanting man is a lot better at diagnosing others than himself. “He practices what I think is safe, strong, good medicine,” says Kathy Young, a private-school nurse whose 18-year-old daughter, Emily Trower-Young, has been Murphy’s patient since infancy. “He doesn’t give antibiotics unless you actually have strep throat. He finds out all the details before coming to a conclusion. And he loves kids. That is just so clear, and he is great with them. I’ve been thrown out of the inner office because he says, ‘I need to talk to Emily.’ “

Young and her husband, David Trower, headmaster of the Allen-Stevenson School, have gone through “a lot of scary stuff” with Emily, a couple of cancer scares among them, and Murphy “knows who to send you to and what to do in the process,” says Young.

“He can pull out my file, which is one of the thickest in the entire filing system, and he knows everything that’s going on,” Emily attests. “He’s always been as concerned about my welfare as my health. I had a lot of problems emotionally in seventh grade, and he was always there to talk to and he knew what to tell my parents without betraying my confidence. He’s always treated me like a daughter.”

Those who just want to get the throat culture, get the results, and get out probably wouldn’t be happy with his brand of medicine, allows Murphy, who wants to know as much about what’s going on inside the family as he does about what’s going on inside his young patients. “I can point out the tumors I caught or the laughter I heard or the illness I prevented from progressing – those are all important,” says Murphy. “But being able to work with families gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.

“It’s a privilege to serve children,” he adds. “You’re dealing with their spirits and bodies. You can see the world through their eyes. You can make real changes for a lot of them. To be a physician is like being allowed to be a priest or a rabbi. It’s holy work. I don’t want to get mushy here, but it’s not just a living, it’s a calling.”

And Baby Makes … Four