36 AAP News •
www.aapnews.org • September 2015
“The best friend a baby ever
1930. He was known as a leading
That was a description in a 1952
Chicago newspaper article about
pediatrician Isaac A. Abt, M.D.,
FAAP (1867-1955), an AAP
founder and its first president in
clinician, academic, scholar, advocate, writer and
Dr. Abt started out practicing internal medicine
in 1894 but gravitated to pediatrics at a time when
many dismissed the idea that children have unique
medical needs. He was one of the earliest child health
specialists and a public health advocate.
The autobiography Baby Doctor (McGraw-Hill,
1944), published when he was 77, chronicles Dr.
Abt’s daily struggles over half a century to care for
patients amid many challenges, among them poor
sanitation and hygiene. Though medical knowledge
was advancing rapidly, children had only a 50%
chance of living past age 5. Common killers were
diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis.
Dr. Abt cared for patients in his practice, free
clinics and hospitals, and consulted in surrounding
Midwestern towns and cities. He also gave advice on
child care and proper sanitation. In the early years,
he was a county physician and Chicago Health
The first American pediatrician to use protein
milk to treat infantile diarrhea, Dr. Abt had been
especially frustrated over the death and disease related
to unhygienic milk practices. He helped found the
Chicago Milk Commission in 1903, which became
the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.
Dr. Abt was the first physician in the Midwest
to give diphtheria antitoxin and the first Chicago
doctor to prescribe orange juice to treat scurvy. In
the mid-1920s, Dr. Abt, with the help of an engineer,
invented a breast pump.
“In one way or another, it seemed, I was always
involved in some welfare crusade,” he wrote in Baby
Doctor, “talking to my fellow citizens or barnstorming
through the country. That was only natural; most
physicians are continually preaching what they
practice, whether by spreading the gospel of hygiene,
instructing students, patients and patients’ families,
helping to enforce the laws pertaining to health,
or engaging in civic movements relating to their
profession. So I, too, was becoming something of
Also well-known for his teaching clinics, Dr.
Abt had over the years served on multiple faculties;
his longest tenure was at Northwestern University
(1909-1939), where he became professor and chair
of pediatrics, and later, emeritus chair. Today, 15
boxes in the university’s archives preserve his personal
papers and other materials.
A founder of the American Journal of the Diseases
of Children, Dr. Abt was editor of The Year Book of
Pediatrics (1902-1947) collaborating on the later
editions with his pediatrician-son, Arthur. He
edited the eight-volume Abt’s Pediatrics (1923-1926),
considered a classic. He wrote The Baby’s Food (1917)
for the lay public and numerous scientific papers.
The former Sarah Morris Hospital for Children,
the first children’s hospital in Chicago, also was a
testament to his efforts. After a family came to him
with a donation and request to build a hospital, Dr.
Abt traveled to Europe and the East Coast to analyze
the best designs. The hospital was dedicated in 1912,
and he headed it for 13 years.
In 1911, Dr. Abt was chair of the American Medical
Association (AMA) Section on Pediatrics; from
1919-1935 he represented the section at the AMA
House of Delegates. He served terms as president of
the American Pediatric Society, the Chicago Medical
Society and the Chicago Pediatric Society.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Abt was present among the
physicians who attended the 1929 AMA meeting
in Portland and, along with a group of other
pediatricians, gathered on July 19 at the home of
James Rosenfeld, M.D., FAAP. They discussed the
need to organize a new society “for the purpose of
spreading the benefits of pediatric knowledge to
children everywhere.” Later, Dr. Abt, working with
colleagues such as Clifford G. Grulee, M.D., FAAP,
devised plans for the founding of the Academy.
Eventually, several hundred charter members of the
Academy elected Dr. Abt the first president.
Dr. Abt died of a heart ailment at age 87 on the
same day his father passed away 30 years earlier.
— Alyson Sulaski Wyckoff
For Your Benefit
from the AAP Department of Membership
The Academy established the Provisional Section
on International Medical Graduates in recognition
of the role these trainees and physicians play in the
care of children in the U.S. and abroad as well as
their contributions to the Academy.
The section represents and promotes the interests
of U.S. and foreign-born physicians who graduated
from medical schools outside the United States and
Canada. It will offer advice to pediatric international
medical graduate (IMG) residents and residency
programs on graduates’ needs when immigrating
to the U.S. It also will provide mentorship and
guidance to IMGs who are early in their careers.
The section’s mission is to improve the health
and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and
young adults by uniting graduates from U.S. and
international medical schools to be strong advocates
IMGs make up 25%-30% of the pediatric
workforce in the U.S. They often work in rural
settings and in underserved areas and play a critical
role in filling gaps in access to health care for many
children. IMGs who immigrate to the U.S. also can
be a catalyst to improve medical education in their
country of birth.
The section, therefore, will work to increase the
impact pediatric IMGs have on international child
health. Many U.S. universities and medical schools
have ongoing collaborations in countries where
pediatric IMGs originally trained and practiced.
Oftentimes, IMGs have local knowledge that can
help foster and maintain international collaborations
that focus on local endemic conditions affecting
In addition, pediatric IMGs can be critical during
international disaster relief efforts. The section will
work with the AAP Section on International Child
Health and the Disaster Preparedness Advisory
Council to identify individuals whose local
knowledge and pediatric expertise will be beneficial
when disasters occur.
Section members will serve a critical role in
ensuring that AAP policies are culturally sensitive.
The section and the Committee on Membership
are planning a policy statement titled, Diversity and
Inclusion in Pediatrics: The Role of the International
The section will continue to have provisional
status for at least one more year. It then can receive
full section status after petitioning the Board of
Section works to increase impact of pediatric IMGs in U.S., abroad
For more information on the section or to join, visit
http://bit.ly/1TTms97. There are no dues to become a
section member, and it is open to all AAP members.
First AAP President Dr. Abt a pioneer in pediatrics