Healing Children: A Surgeon’s Stories from the Frontiers of Pediatric Medicine

  • By Kurt Newman, M.D.
  • Viking
  • 272 pp.
  • Reviewed by Tania Heller, M.D.
  • August 15, 2017

A clarion call for standalone kids' healthcare facilities

The impassioned memoir Healing Children: A Surgeon’s Stories from the Frontiers of Pediatric Medicine by Kurt Newman chronicles the author’s career as a pediatric surgeon at, and later CEO of, Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC.

Newman relates his personal health experience, which motivated him to enter the field, and his evolution as he becomes surgeon-in-chief and ultimately assumes a hospital leadership position.

We are reminded in the book that children have “unique biological, neurological, and psychological needs,” and in order to thrive, they should have a specialty medical environment with skilled healthcare professionals.

Newman highlights the unfortunate reality that, whereas adult medicine has traditionally been prioritized, pediatric medicine has been undervalued and inadequately funded. With increased awareness, this is changing.  

As the author becomes inspired by a mentor who teaches the importance of focusing not only on the short-term goal of immediate treatment, but also on the child’s long-term physical and psychological health, we are given a glimpse of the transformation that occurs within the world of pediatric surgery and, more broadly, pediatric medicine.

Readers will gain insight into the functioning of a major children’s hospital, as well as into the intense and vital relationships between members of the healthcare team, families, and philanthropists.

Pediatric surgery has come a long way in four decades. Knowledge about this specialty has increased, and significant advances have been made in technology and scientific research. Data analysis with a review of best practices and methods, and collaboration with nurses, doctors, and hospitals, have led to the establishment of evidence-based treatments with the goal of improving outcomes. Writes Newman: “A hospital that combine[s] the art of patient care with the metrics of data analysis would marry the best of the past and the future.”

Over 30-plus years in pediatric medicine, Newman interacted with patients and families whose bravery and altruism propelled him to search for a better understanding of childhood disorders, new treatments, and optimal delivery of care.

Anecdotes reveal the struggles and triumphs as dedicated doctors, nurses, and families work together to improve and save lives. There are poignant accounts of children dealing with life-threatening and life-changing conditions, including genetic disorders, major trauma, and cancer.

This book is a valuable guide for parents, families, and caregivers, as well as for anyone concerned about the future of our kids. Healing Children will also be of great interest to students pursuing a career in medicine.

Newman makes a powerful and convincing case for the prioritization of pediatric medicine and pediatric specialty care and draws our attention to the critical difference that access to a specialty-care children’s hospital can make when it comes to successful outcomes. 

Tania Heller, M.D., is an independent medical-school admissions consultant and the author of five books, including On Becoming a Doctor (Sourcebooks) and You and Your Doctor (McFarland). She is currently co-authoring a novel with her father, Izzy Heller.

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