Perri Klass

American pediatrician, academic and writer

Perri Klass (born 1958) ia an American pediatrician and author of both nonfiction and fiction. Her short stories have won several O. Henry awards.


  • The safest way to transport a sick newborn, so hospital wisdom goes, is when it is still inside its mothers.
  • Change can come slowly in medical practice—unless of course it comes in a sudden and absolute flurry of discovery, evidence-based recommendations, and new standards of care. But the kind of change that is based on consensus, on slowly dawning realization, or just on revamping ingrained habits can be slow indeed—it has not proved easy, for example, or even doable, to get physicians to expand our role by screening regularly and consistently for maternal depression, home firearm safety, or domestic violence.
  • When I write about medicine, I write about patients, always trying to pin down the complicated pieces of other people's lives that go spinning past me. As a resident, exhausted beyond belief, I would come home and sit down and write the story of a surprising patient encounter, a hospital moment that I felt I would never forget. A month or two later I would look at the reference and the child would have slipped my mind completely, displaced by the parade of children and families and conversatioins and exam-room encounters and unfolding medical histories.
  • Advice ought to be all about the patient, and that means, I know, that I shouldn't withhold good advice even in situations where I haven't been able to follow it myself. My patients are entitled to my knowledge and understanding rather than my backsliding—to my strengths, shall we say, rather than my weaknesses.
  • For many practicing pediatricians, the imperative keeps coming back to the exam room. Recently, in the pediatric outpatient clinic at Bellevue Hospital, which has served the poor of New York City since 1736, I saw a toddler who was seriously overweight, and I tried to talk with his mother about ending the practice of nighttime milk bottles. The mother became very distressed when I broached the subject of the child’s weight, and the risk of severe dental caries. She knew it all — she had already been through dental procedures for her son, she was worried about the family history of diabetes and the risks associated with obesity. But if she didn’t give her son a milk bottle, he would cry — loudly and at length — and his crying at night disturbed the other people sharing the apartment, who all had to get up early for work or school. She was clearly worried that following my advice might mean losing her living situation, which was already tenuous. The toddler in my exam room was already suffering from some of the chronic diseases — obesity, dental caries — that are part of the medical risk of poverty.
  • Driving down child mortality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was in no way a single project, but it can be seen as a unified human accomplishment—maybe even our greatest human achievement, at least for pediatricians and parents.
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