An Interview with Kurt Newman

Kurt Newman, MD, is president and CEO of Children’s National in Washington, DC. His 30-year career as a pediatric surgeon inspired him to write Healing Children, a memoir-slash-call-to-arms about the importance of kid-centered healthcare and standalone pediatric hospitals.

An Interview with Kurt Newman

What was the most challenging part of writing Healing Children?

One of the toughest parts about writing Healing Children was choosing which stories to include. I’ve had so many inspiring patients, colleagues, and mentors over the years, and each one has helped shape my views on pediatric medicine and what it takes to care for kids. I started this process with many more stories than could fit into one salient book, and needed to whittle the set down. It was a challenging process to cull through all the memories and decide which stories best conveyed my most important messages for readers. Every one of my patients has a special place in my heart and memory — I wish I could share them all.

Your book is part memoir, part call to action in support of standalone children’s hospitals. Why was now the right time to publish it?

There is no better moment to launch Healing Children than right now. Our country’s leaders and lawmakers are in the midst of a challenging debate about the future of healthcare and, far too often, children are missing from the conversation. I wrote Healing Children because it’s time to speak up for children’s health and make sure our kids’ needs are represented in policy decisions about healthcare.

The fact is, as a nation, we just don’t prioritize children’s health the way we should. Major budget cuts are threatening vital programs like Medicaid, which provides healthcare services to over 30 million American children. We need more pediatric hospitals and trauma centers. More children should be seen by pediatric specialists. And we should put more resources as a nation into pediatric research. This is not the time to cut our investment in children. If anything, it’s time to raise our game.

You write quite a bit about the late DC-based philanthropist Joe Robert, who was instrumental in raising funds for Children’s National. How do you think he’d feel about this book?

Joe was an incredible mentor, motivator, and friend. He was already a titan of the DC philanthropy community when I first met him, but I really came to know him as a parent. Once we got to talking about the future of pediatric medicine and what we could do together at Children’s National, it was clear he was going to push me toward the biggest, boldest ideas possible. He always emphasized thinking beyond incremental improvements, toward major breakthroughs and advances that could have significant impacts down the line.

In some ways, Healing Children is my biggest, boldest idea to date — it’s a message to every parent that we can do more to prioritize and invest in our nation’s children. I think Joe would take pride in knowing that he was the catalyst for this book and seeing that his spirit is imprinted on every page.

Do you have any favorite authors or works you looked to for inspiration while writing your book?

Walter Isaacson is an excellent biographer, and I read his book The Innovators while I was writing Healing Children. I was drawn to his stories about the personalities and minds behind some of the world’s most transformational technological innovations. Beyond the writing itself, I drew inspiration from his ideas about embracing innovation and creating environments that allow ideas to collide can foster major breakthroughs. Reading this book at the time when I was writing the final chapters of my own memoir helped push me to strengthen my focus on storytelling about the next big frontiers in pediatric medicine.

If readers take away just one thing from Healing Children, what would you like it to be?

My main message for readers is that the best place to take your kids for any kind of medical care is to pediatric specialists, pediatric surgeons, and pediatric specialty facilities. Everyone wants the best for their children — and the people and places with the most child-focused experience, training, and knowledge are the best equipped to provide it.

[Editor’s note: Proceeds from Healing Children will go to the Pediatric Health Opportunity Fund, a charity supporting research and innovation at Children’s National and other research centers.]

Holly Smith is managing editor of the Independent and incoming chair of the Patient-Family Advisory Council at Children’s National.

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