These winning M.D.'s enrich their community, help parents stay calm, and always put their young patients first. The seven pediatricians featured here go above and beyond the traditional call of duty.
More than 2,100 nominations poured in and our judges were moved -- sometimes to tears -- by story after story of physicians who give out their cell-phone number, attend school meetings to advocate for children, and personally pay for medications for families who can't afford them.
Choosing our seven contest winners was difficult, but we narrowed it down to these wonderful pediatricians. (Those on our Board of Advisors were not eligible.) Each receives $1,000 to donate to a child-focused charity, and the parent who nominated each winner gets a $500 gift card to Walmart, all courtesy of Desitin. (Some doctors were nominated by more than one parent; the nominator awarded the gift card submitted the most convincing nomination.) Without further ado, meet the doctors whose kindness and commitment blew us away.
Rebecca L. Partridge, M.D.
Winning nominator: Chelle Johnson
Dr. Partridge works many Saturdays because, she says, "Sometimes Monday is just too long to wait to see your pediatrician. Especially for parents of a child with special needs." She understands this both as the medical director of the Down Syndrome Program at Virginia Mason Pediatrics, which focuses on the health and development of children with Down syndrome (DS) and their families, and as the mother of Joshua, 12, who has DS. "My passion for caring for children with Down syndrome was born at the same time as my son," she says.
According to Dr. Partridge, most major cities in the U.S. have specialized care for children with DS, but there was none in Seattle -- nor in the entire state of Washington -- until she launched the program at Virginia Mason in April 2013. "I couldn't find a pediatrician specializing in Down syndrome for my own family, and countless other families were in the same position," she says. Having spent 12 years taking care of as many children with DS as possible in order to learn more, Dr. Partridge left her position at Seattle Children's Hospital in October 2012 with the goal of establishing a primary-care program for children with DS.
"Dr. Partridge seems as genuinely concerned about the well-being of the rest of our family as she is about our son Sebastian's," says Johnson, describing rough patches such as giving birth to Sebastian five weeks early and his having spent four weeks in the NICU and then being hospitalized for a month with bronchiolitis. "She values my intuition and instincts." What's more, Dr. Partridge has rewritten infant-milestone checklists and parent-information packets so they're more applicable to a child with DS. "Rather than seeing all the milestones my child hasn't met," says Johnson, "I get a checklist of ones that are appropriate."
Above all, Dr. Partridge says, she loves to share with parents who are expecting a baby with DS just how wonderful their child will be: "The future is bright for children with DS, as well as for those of us lucky enough to be in their lives."
Life With Down Syndrome
Peter Shulman, M.D.
Winning nominator: Dana Calsyn
For the past four years, Dr. Shulman has left his office in upscale Encino to treat patients at a clinic in a profoundly disadvantaged region of Burundi for six to eight weeks. Just south of Rwanda, this East African nation is the world's third-poorest country. "The vast majority of Burundians have no other access to medical care," he says.
The children he treats are often suffering from malaria, severe malnutrition, multiple skin infections, and profound anemia. It pains him to recall the patients he has lost over the years; he tries to focus on the successes he and his colleagues have had. "Many children have been saved who would otherwise have died without the care the clinic provides," he says. This month, Dr. Shulman will be honored by Save A Child's Heart, an organization that brings children from third-world countries to Israel for lifesaving heart surgery. Three of his patients in Burundi benefited from the program.
He offers the same attentive care to his patients back home. "Peter Shulman is a gem -- a wonderful soul and a tremendously generous human being," says Calsyn. "He responded to my frantic first-time-mom e-mails within minutes, putting my worries to rest, and he tolerated my paranoia with grace. He never makes me feel guilty and has even offered to make a house call. He is ever patient and quick with a smile and humor when we need it most. We are so lucky to have found Dr. Shulman."
Natalie Lambajian-Drummond, M.D.
Winning nominator: Rebecca Galles
After losing an inspiring 4-year-old patient to an aggressive form of brain cancer,
Dr. Lambajian-Drummond knew it was time to follow her dreams. "I had been studying homeopathy and integrative medicine," she says, "but it was Kylie's death that prompted me to open my own clinic where I could practice integrative medicine instead of just traditional allopathic medicine."
She had been growing tired of insurance companies' treatment protocols that did not take into account the individual nature of a patient and often caused bad side effects. She felt compelled to look for alternatives. Plus, parents would bring her questionable unconventional remedies they were using, and she didn't know if they would work -- or if they were safe. "I need to be sure about what I'm giving a child," she explains.
In 2010, she embarked on a one-year program for physicians through the Center for Education and Development of Homeopathy and also attended a two-year program at Andrew Weil's Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, at the University of Arizona. She opened her clinic, Whole Child Pediatrics, in 2012, a few months after Kylie passed away.
Now Dr. Lambajian-Drummond holds regular parenting classes on topics like cloth diapering and hosts kids' events like yoga parties. Parents describe her as warm, caring, loving, fun, and informative. Explains Galles, "Dr. Natalie is perfect for anyone, from moms who just want a 'regular doctor' to those who want to do everything natural, to those in between, like me. She is just absolutely amazing."
Matthew S. Cohen, M.D.
Long Beach, New York
Winning nominator: Jessica Mack
When Hurricane Sandy swept up the East Coast in October 2012, it devastated the seaside town of Long Beach and wiped out Dr. Cohen's office. His then fiancée, Lisa Seymour, said it was heartbreaking to watch him walk into the office the day after the storm. "We saved some things on shelves, like vision- and hearing-testing equipment, an EKG machine, and baby formula," he says. "Anything that touched the wet floor was destroyed."
But Dr. Cohen was most concerned that his patients were safe. Within days, he and his staff converted a trolley in the center of town into a field hospital for his patients -- and anyone who needed medical care, including firefighters, town officials, and the elderly. No one seen immediately following the storm was charged.
Not only had his office, apartment, and car been damaged, but he and Seymour had to cancel their wedding that upcoming weekend. "We spent what would've been our wedding night at my in-laws' house," Dr. Cohen says. Two weeks after the storm, he secured a line of credit to rent an office 20 minutes away for the following year, while his former space was renovated.
Even under normal circumstances Dr. Cohen serves his community, speaking to students about topics such as drug-abuse awareness, as well as giving talks to expectant parents. His willingness to go the extra mile does not go unnoticed. "When my daughter had a respiratory virus, he stayed on the phone after-hours with me until he was certain I felt comfortable and knew she would be okay," says Mack. "He is informative, caring, and dedicated."
As for his wedding, it went off without a hitch a year later -- with no regrets about the delay. Says Dr. Cohen, "In some weird way I feel fortunate to have been put in a situation where I got to help so many people."
Rick Mersch, M.D.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Winning nominator: Courtney East
Ever hear stories of the days when a doctor would come to a child's bedside with his black bag? That still happens if you have Dr. Mersch for a pediatrician. He doesn't mind making a house call when it's difficult for a patient to get to him.
When East's daughter Ellie was born, she stopped breathing several times, despite seeming healthy. "The hospital told us we could take her home or send her to the NICU for tests," says East. "Dr. Mersch said that if we took her home, he would sleep on our couch." Ellie went to the NICU, but after she was released he made house calls to check on her. "His kindness and love of children shines through in everything he does," East says. "I've done things that others may consider to be above the norm," says Dr. Mersch, who attends patients' ball games, plays, and dances. "But it's just how I live my life."
Pilar Bradshaw, M.D.
Winning nominator: Tracy Allen
"My job is not what I do, it's who I am," says Dr. Bradshaw. She'll always recall the happy moments that helped her to grow as a pediatrician, but the events every doctor dreads have made her feel as if she has been taken to a higher plane as a physician. This includes the painful time she drove 100 miles to the nearest children's hospital to help a mom and dad make the agonizing decision to take their child off life support and when she held the hand of a patient as he passed away. These are among the many experiences that have broken her heart but deepened her compassion.
Dr. Bradshaw always encourages questions, says Allen. She often begins appointments by asking, "What's the teeniest, tiniest worry you have about your child?" Addressing little concerns can prevent bigger ones from coming to pass.
Marlene Wust-Smith, M.D.
Port Allegany, Pennsylvania
Winning nominator: Miranda Johnson
Many physicians would be thrilled to work in a practice that treats the children of actors, politicians, and other doctors, but Dr. Wust-Smith had a different idea of success. "When I started working with underserved children, I found my true calling," she says. While at her first job out of residency in New York City, Dr. Wust-Smith moonlighted on summer weekends at a clinic in East Hampton, on Long Island, where many of her patients had a second home. A native Spanish speaker, she also treated the children of immigrant workers who lived in the Hamptons year-round. "When working with a non-Spanish-speaking pediatrician, the parents didn't understand their child's condition or how to give medication," she explains. "I could communicate in their own language."
Dr. Wust-Smith eventually took a job as acting deputy commissioner of health and medical director for Long Island's Suffolk Health Plan, in addition to seeing patients two days a week. Then when the opportunity came up eight years ago to practice at Charles Cole Memorial Hospital in an impoverished part of Pennsylvania, she jumped at the chance. Dr. Wust-Smith and her colleagues develop programs to combat childhood obesity and promote literacy and breastfeeding. She's passionate about preventing child abuse, as well.
Johnson says that Dr. Wust-Smith knows how to tackle any problem -- such as when Johnson's youngest daughter was born with a severe allergy to the protein in certain foods, which was difficult to diagnose. "She spends time talking to both parents and patients, caring about even the smallest details," says Johnson. "We love Dr. Marlene and think she's the best pediatrician ever."
Baby Care Basics: Choosing the Right Doctor
Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Parents magazine.