FEATURE — Summer 2005

Pamela Gallin, A.B./B.S. '74, M.D. '78, F.A.C.S., F.A.A.P.

Prescription for Good Medical Care

Ever mindful of a physician's responsibility, alumna Pamela Gallin provides special care to her patients, her community, and, through her best-selling medical books, consumers nationwide.

By Jeanne Erdmann

Pamela F. Gallin has always been the medical clearinghouse for those close to her. Parents, friends, neighbors, and family call her for advice: to find out which hospital or which doctor is best, to help select a specialist, or to determine whether an injury is serious enough for a trip to the ER.

She is always happy to help.

"In medical school, mentors taught us the facts," says Gallin, A.B./B.S. '74, M.D. '78, F.A.C.S., F.A.A.P., "and, along with that body of knowledge, they taught us how to use our judgment, which is what I try to provide in my practice and in all my endeavors.

"Another important thing that I learned in medical school is that it's a responsibility and a privilege to be a physician."

A pediatric surgeon, Gallin knows a few things about responsibility. She is also director of Pediatric Ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, and she is associate professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of New York. Listed in Best Doctors in America since 2001, Gallin has served on the White House Health Care Task Force as well.

Over the past few years, she has taken her responsibility to another level, writing several books to help consumers nationwide obtain the best medical care. Her first book, The Savvy Mom's Guide to Heath Care: Everything You Need to Know to Get Top Quality Care for Your Child—From Choosing a Pediatrician to Navigating the Hospital System, lives up to its title. In it, Gallin provides advice that ranges from "how to know when a fever is serious" to "how to dress babies for doctor's appointments" (in outfits you can take off easily).

Her most recent book, How to Survive Your Doctor's Care: Get the Right Diagnosis, the Right Treatment, and the Right Experts for You, provides a thorough guide for medical care. Gallin explains the "doctor's-eye" view of medicine, beginning with her own distressing experience as a patient. She walks readers through how diagnoses are made; explains physician specialties, such as radiology, pathology, and anesthesiology; makes clear the value of second opinions; and describes the valuable contribution of nurses.

Both books did well. Savvy Mom's was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and, to support it, Gallin appeared on Good Morning America, The View, and CBS' The Early Show. How to Survive garnered her a four-day series on the Today show and other TV appearances. She was also featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and on national radio shows.

During Gallin's appearance on the Today show, host Katie Couric invited viewers to submit questions to Gallin via e-mail. One viewer wrote that her pediatrician did not know how to make a referral to a pediatric surgeon. Another, an automobile union worker, needed help choosing the right physician in his insurance network and wanted to know when to select physicians outside the network.

"People need guidance because the list of network physicians looks too much like names in a phone book," Gallin says. "Sometimes, the doctor's hospital affiliation isn't listed, and the layperson cannot decode nuances such as physician subspecialty. Choosing the right doctor and the right medical institution can mean the difference between getting the best care available, or not.

"It's quite daunting," she adds, "and if you're worried, especially, you're not operating at full capacity."

"Choosing the right doctor and the right medical institution can mean the difference between getting the best care available, or not."

The acknowledgment section of How to Survive honors the mentors who lent their expertise to Gallin's career, which began as an undergraduate at Washington University. She liked engineering and wanted to combine computers and medicine. A professor at NYU, whom she knew, had a son who attended Washington University and suggested she take a look. When Gallin visited the University, the assistant dean of engineering accepted her on the spot.

"I was very nervous about being a female engineer—terrified to be specific," Gallin says. She needn't have worried. Gallin thrived in the personalized attention of the engineering and medical faculties who began what she calls her "forward progression of knowledge and skills."

Encouraged by the engineering faculty, Gallin spent hours in the biomedical computer lab conducting independent studies. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and she made Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, secret handshake and all, which honors the top 10 percent of graduates.

"I have to confess I was very proud," she says.

Most of Pamela Gallin's patients are children. A pediatric surgeon, she is also director of Pediatric Ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

After graduation, Gallin stayed at Washington University to attend the School of Medicine, where her mentors helped her on her career path.

Today, most of Gallin's patients are children. To put them at ease, her exam room is a "kid's place" of doctor dolls, a teddy bear in a white coat, toys, blocks, and children's books. Amid the wall of WU diplomas, Gallin hangs framed drawings done by her children and by her patients.

She and her husband have four children. Their oldest is a banker; the second is a classics major; and the youngest likes science. Her third child wants to be a neurosurgeon; she is an undergraduate at Yale University and hopes to attend Washington University School of Medicine.

When Gallin and her daughter (who was nominated for a Danforth Scholarship) visited the Hilltop Campus and the Medical Campus last year, Gallin was reminded of the University's dedication to personal attention.

"The moment my daughter walked into the Undergraduate Admissions office, the woman at the front desk said, 'Hello, Hilary, how was your trip?' Not only did she know my daughter's name, she knew we had just gotten off a plane," Gallin says. "That's how it starts, and the attention follows through from the time you walk in the front door to the time you walk out the same door, graduated." Meanwhile, Gallin's third consumer book nears approval by her publisher. This book continues her tradition of patient advocacy by providing advice that helps people find the doctors they need and the care, she says, they deserve. And she's more than happy to answer that call.

Jeanne Erdmann is a free-lance writer based in Wentzville, Missouri.