North Branford Patch: How did you first get interested in medicine?
Dr. Richard Whelan: I had always been interested in medicine, I cannot remember a time when I was not. I wonder somehow if it was drilled into my brain by my parents. I had an interest in being part of the medical field. I didn't know that I wanted to do pediatrics right away.
North Branford Patch: Why did you specialize in pediatrics?
Whelan: I like to be with people and interact with people. I think this the only profession where I feel that you truly get intimately involved with a family. It doesn't happen in surgical medicine or things like that where you see a patient and move on. A lot of what I do isn't related to illness, it's related to behavioral issues, school issues, family issues and how they impact kids. We have this incredible gift of being able to be involved closely with families and helping them through the tough times. When I was doing pediatric rotations in medical school, I began to see it as a powerful thing.
North Branford Patch: What was your first job in the medical field?
Whelan: I graduated from Tufts Medical School in 1970 and then I did my pediatric training at Yale and I finished there in 1973. Then, I had a commitment to do two years in the Navy, so I did that as a pediatrician in Pensacola. I never did any combat, I only saw kids. When I came back to Connecticut, I worked in the Hill Health Center in New Haven. I worked there for a few years, but I felt the need to do my own thing.
North Branford Patch: How did you get started in North Branford?
Whelan: In 1978, there was no other pediatrician in North Branford so I thought that it was a ripe area to open. I opened by myself and I had no patients.
North Branford Patch: What were those first few years like?
Whelan: It was very exciting. Physicians generally don't advertise, but I did. I contacted different organizations and I got involved with the schools. It really began to grow in a slow way because people go to pediatricians based on word-of-mouth. The first couple years are tough because you aren't really seeing a lot of people. You get to the end of the week and you say, "Oh, I saw six patients this week." Well, that was something because we didn't have any to start with. It was just myself and one other person who answered the phones. It was exciting and enjoyable as I saw the practice grow.
North Branford Patch: What is your medical philosophy?
Whelan: My philosophy towards medicine and children is that I really do have an enormous faith in the human body. I think the human body can really take care of most things that affect kids. Clearly, there are some exceptions as we all know. There are clearly times when we have to intervene, but we try very hard to be careful about that, about not overtreating. I try to convince my parents that fevers are normal, fevers are good because they are a response the body is making towards getting better. A fever is a sign that the body is functioning. Most things don't need antibiotics.
North Branford Patch: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Whelan: The most challenging part is dealing with things that are really devastating. Things like automobile accidents or the more devastating diseases. Kids do get cancer or brain tumors. Those are devastating. Nobody wants that to happen to a child or their family. Those are the toughest times.
North Branford Patch: What is the biggest misconception about pediatrics?
Whelan: It's not just taking care of sickness, it's taking care of the family and the family structure.
North Branford Patch: Can you describe a day in the life of a pediatrician?
Whelan: We have a pretty full schedule. I'm usually here around 7:30 in the morning and I don't see patients until 8:30. Some patients are scheduled because of illness, some are scheduled for exams, some are scheduled for consults regarding behavior or other issues in the family. We're supposed to break for lunch, but that's usually the time when we return phone calls. This is a business as well and there's a lot that has to be done from that viewpoint.
North Branford Patch: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Whelan: I think that we've done a lot to help people in the community and that's very gratifying. I'm really feeling that now that I'm leaving and I'm getting letters and cards. I feel very proud of what this practice is.
North Branford Patch: What are your plans for retirement?
Whelan: I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I know that I'm going to get up and read the New York Times for an hour every morning, something which I've never been able to do. I'm not really committing myself to anything.
To be featured in ‘A Day in the Life’ or to suggest someone who should be profiled, send information to Jim Gangi.