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A Day in the Life: Dr. Richard Whelan, Pediatrician

In 1978, Dr. Richard Whelan established North Branford Pediatrics, now Branford/North Branford Pediatrics. After 33 years of service to the town, the good doctor has announced his plans to hang up his stethoscope.

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.

donna naples September 20, 2011 at 06:19 PM
My daughter has been seen by Dr. Whelan and his staff since her birth 19 years ago. He is truely a wonderful man and Doctor. His caring and professional ways are what every doctor should have. He also made sure his staff followed his beliefs and professionalism. Thank you Dr. Whelan and enjoy. You have succeeded in touching the life and hearts of many. Thank you again....Donna
Marcia Blossom Duenkel September 20, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Dr. Whalen was the person I trusted with the care of my newborn children first in 1979 and then again in 1984 and for several years after that. When I think about that first year and all the challenges it brought for me as first-time mother, and for Dr. Whalen himself, I am overwhelmed. To say it simply, Dr. Whalen you are an inspiration and have made a difference in all our lives. Best wishes on your retirement!
Donna Guido September 21, 2011 at 08:18 PM
Dr. Whelan was our pediatrician for our son and daughter who remained in his care until they were almost thirty years old! We started with him in 1980. He was nurturing and we trusted him completely with the care of our children. It's obvious that they did too because they remained with him well into adulthood. When we were new parents he was always patient, understanding and reassuring. None of our many questions were regarded as trivial to him. He was cocerned with the total child -physically,emotionally, socially, and intellectually. We wish nothing but the best for this truly wonderful human being!
Tanya Vine Humphries September 24, 2011 at 03:16 PM
I was one of Dr. Whelan's first patients, until I was finally persuaded to find an "adult" Dr. at around 23 years old or so! His practice is still a favorite among my friends in town with children. Thank you for your many years of service, Dr. Whelan. And more importantly, for your compassion and caring that made you such a hit with parents and children, alike! You will be missed!

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