Fort Worth, Texas,
11:52 AM

The tall one with the stethoscope


You may look at Justin Smith, M.D., and think he looks awfully young to be a pediatrician, the father of three and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health at Cook Children’s. Well, it isn’t something he hasn’t already heard before. Today, he offers insight into what he knows some parents think and explains why they shouldn’t worry.

“Are you old enough to be a doctor?”

“How are they going to know who the doctor is?”

“When is the doctor coming in?”

I heard these questions a lot when I first started practicing medicine five years ago. I had a baby face, wore my shirt untucked most days and my Chucks might have made me look more like my patients than the other doctors in my practice. I was starting to wonder if I should make some changes so that I would fit the norm with what people expected.So, what did I do? I went and talked with a mentor of mine.  He was actually my old pediatrician - Dr. Steve Faehnle in Abilene.  He laughed because when he showed up in Abilene, baby faced and not wearing a sport coat, he was asked the same question.  He said he always used one consistent response, “I’m the tall one with the stethoscope.”I did a lot of extra school and training to become a doctor:

Three years of college (I officially “dropped out” but you’ll have to ask me about that to get the full story. It’s not as bad as it sounds.).Four years of medical school.Three years of pediatric residency.

I worked for three years in a very busy Abilene clinic, taking Dr. Faehnle’s place.

I know a lot about your child, inside and out.  I was taught how to watch for what is normal and how to respond when things aren’t.

Sometimes after all that training , a person can become cold and indifferent to the suffering of children and the day in and day out concerns of parents.

I suppose I could’ve become that way. Long hours of residency where every child seems like they are really sick can really wear you down and decrease your concern for the “little things.”

But …I became a dad.I now know what it’s like to sit up at night worried about your child’s breathing, wondering if you should phone the on-call doctor (even if it is your partner).I know what it’s like to have a little toddler’s behavior drive you so crazy that you want to yell, “JUST STOP” at them as loud as you can (even though you know you’re always supposed to stay calm).I know what it’s like to worry because your third child isn’t walking at 14 months like her older brothers did (even though you know you’re not supposed to compare).

So, how am I different than my parents?I have a lot of education and experience in taking care of sick and well children.I see parenting done well and poorly every single day so I have tons of examples to draw from.And now, “I’m the tall one with the stethoscope.”

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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