To win the position, Palfrey successfully navigated a nine-month-long process that included rigorous interviews and a nation-wide campaign culminating in an election before the 60,000 members of the academy.
“Because you’re going to be the rep for all the children, they want you to hear their views,” Palfrey said. “It was inspiring to meet those working terribly hard to help the children.”
Palfrey—who has been affiliated with the academy since 1976, shortly after finishing her residency—has led the academy’s section on developmental and behavioral pediatrics. One of her major projects was helping to create the Community Pediatrics Training Initiative.
In an interview Sunday, Palfrey stressed the link between medicine and public health, saying that she aimed to shift the focus of pediatrics toward prevention.
“It’s important for doctors to realize how much family and social circumstances affect health care,” Palfrey said. “Without such awareness, we can miss causes for children’s problems.”
Palfrey noted that nine million American children are uninsured and said that she will continue the academy’s efforts to “close the gap.”
She said that under her leadership, the academy will continue to press Congress to renew and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a bill that would provide health care coverage to four million children in addition to the 6.6 million already enrolled. The bill was twice vetoed by President Bush.
Palfrey acknowledged that while the financial crisis may make it more difficult to secure more funding for children’s health, she thinks that “the new folks in Congress will have a better attitude towards child health care.” And though she is known for her liberal politics, Palfrey she has high hopes for the incoming presidential administration regardless of who wins in November.
Palfrey said she does not anticipate that leading the pediatrics academy will take away from her work at Harvard.
“I’ve had a busy life, and I’ve been able to accomplish much by staying organized,” she said.
To teach her freshmen seminar, for example, Palfrey said she plans on “cross-pollinating” her activities with her students’ interests.
“Having my students attend pediatrics-related conferences in Boston can be an educational experience,” she said.
One of her students interviewed yesterday said that he had the highest regard for Palfrey, saying that “you can basically ask her anything.”
“She’s like an open book, full of knowledge on childhood and health care,” Mihir J. Chaudhary ’12 said. “She’s pretty much awesome.”
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