Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. James M. Perrin, American Academy of Pediatrics

Osmosis Team
Published on Aug 20, 2014. Updated on Invalid date.

Dr. James M. Perrin serves as the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He is a Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Mass General Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy. Dr. Perrin is also the Director for the Division of General Pediatrics and the Vice Chair for Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was the founding editor of Ambulatory Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. His extensive research into child and adolescent health care policy and practice led us to believe that he would be an excellent addition to our Leaders in Medical Education series. Read more to learn about his experiences in pediatric medicine!

What made you interested in a career in medicine? 

I’ve always been more interested in a career with children than a career with medicine. It started when I was a camp counselor as a late teenager. I then did a lot of work in college with kids, mainly in schools but also in a variety of other places. I thought one of the better ways to work with children was through medicine.

How did you become involved with child and adolescent health policy?

Back when I was in medical school, we had a lot of interest in the changing aspects of healthcare and there was a group of students who were excited about how much change there was in medicine. That was some decades ago, though there is of course much interest in how we can continue to change and improve the profession of medicine today. Between my first and second years of residency, I spent a couple of years in Washington D.C., where I worked on rural health trying to improve community health. For part of that time, I worked on the federal health programs for migrant farmworkers and their families, which taught me a lot about policy, politics, and how to accomplish change in Washington. That was one of the ways I got really interested in health policy and how I can make a bigger difference than in the office.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

I think it has always been listening to and learning from families. It is a real privilege to listen to families and have them tell you their stories and concerns. It has been a pleasure to work with young people as they grow up. One of the nice things about being a primary care physician, particularly a pediatrician, is that you get to work with children when they are a foot long and watch them grow to be six feet tall! It is really exciting watching that process.

As President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, what do you believe are the biggest challenges facing pediatricians these days?

The biggest challenge for pediatricians is to transform medical practices to more team-based care. By helping pediatrics to make use of other disciplines, the practice will be much more capable of providing the care that children and families need.

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What one or two things would you change about medical education to improve the quality of patient care? 

We need to move towards more direct experience with patients early in medical school. We have a lot to learn to become physicians, but experience with patients is incredibly powerful and guides our learning throughout those four years. In addition, we know so much more about the relationship between social and environment factors and health than we did 25-30 years ago. These factors are really important to learn about in medical school. In America, almost 45% of children live in households with incomes less than twice the poverty line (ie, about $46,000 per year for a family of four).  Medical education should address the tremendous impact that poverty and other social/environmental factors have on health. For example, all chronic diseases are more common in chronically poor households and death from chronic illnesses are more common. That is just one example of the interaction that social and environmental factors have on personal and psychological development. A lot of our interventions must go beyond prescribing diets and medications for our patients.