Top Doc: OU-Tulsa’s Dr. Robert Block Leads American Academy of Pediatrics
Dr. Robert Block is taking his expertise in children’s medicine to a national level.
Dr. Block is moving from chairman of the pediatrics department at the University of Oklahoma Medical School to a three-year commitment leading the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s a big step to a national podium to continue his work to improve medicine for children and prevent child abuse.
“It’s a terrific choice,” said Dr. Stephen Adelson, an eminent Tulsa pediatrician. A lot of the job is communication and Dr. Block “really can communicate with just about everybody,” Dr. Adelson said. He also noted that Dr. Block has become “one of the experts in the country on child abuse,” a major element of the AAP.
Another pediatrician, Dr. Liphard D’Souza, said, “Bob Block has done a great job for the University of Oklahoma Medical School and is a very dedicated physician.”
Dr. Block has begun his first year, as president-elect. Next October, he will become president. Then he’ll serve a third year as past president. Those three officers and the AAP chief executive form the executive committee of the organization, which has about 61,000 members nationwide.
Its job, Dr. Block says, is “to look after the health and well-being of children and adolescents.” That ranges from creating educational resources for doctors and the public, to writing policy papers on childhood health issues to helping pediatricians manage the business end of practices to lobbying in
Washington on child health matters.
The AAP also runs a website, healthychildren.org, which he says is a widely-used resource for parents to check on subjects from breastfeeding to car sickness to dealing with a recalcitrant 2-year-old.
But for the presidential regime “a large part of the job is advocacy,” he said, and in that role he will spend a lot of time traveling and in Washington, working with AAP’s government affairs people. AAP is very active, for instance, in First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to combat childhood obesity.
A major focus, Dr. Block said, is “trying to put policy into healthcare reform that would help children.” He said children compose 60-70 percent of Medicaid patients but get only 20 percent of the money — and about 7 million American children are uninsured.
In Oklahoma, Dr. Block has been active in working with child abuse, and since 1989 has been the state’s chief child abuse examiner. He’ll continue that effort nationally.
A native of Iowa, Dr. Block received his medical degree in 1972 from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a pediatric residency at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital. Then Army service led him to Tulsa.
He was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and there met Dr. Dan Plunket, who was a major commander for pediatrics in the Army medical corps. They became good friends and when Dr. Plunket retired to Tulsa to be founding chairman of a pediatrics unit at what was then a new branch campus of the OU Medical School, he recruited Dr. Block to join him.
Dr. Block joined the University in 1975 and became chairman in 1996 when Dr. Plunket retired.
In addition to his teaching, as chairman, Dr. Block has overseen a pediatric clinic with 12,000 patients.
The AAP is one of two organizations for pediatricians. The other is the American Board of Pediatrics, which is a testing and certification body. He’s been active there, too — he is the founding chairman and member of its newest subspecialty, child-abuse pediatrics.
Priorities with the AAP include health-care reform, children of immigrants, immunization, oral health and early brain and early childhood development.
An increase in anti-vaccine sentiment has created some problems as many parents now refuse to have children vaccinated against such common childhood illnesses as whooping cough and measles. That led to “a small epidemic of whooping cough in California,” he said, and a problem when a child came into the country with measles and exposed others. AAP’s job, he said, “is to provide accurate scientific information” about vaccinations.
He said research is showing that such things as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other medical conditions may be associated with childhood problems. Poverty, family acrimony, unstable families and such may trigger things that won’t show up “until you are 30 to 40 or 50 years old.”
He said AAP also has a campaign to try to make media less violent and less suggestive. He said he would “like to revisit” the era when there were things television could not put on prime time. But the media also needs to be used “to educate kids about safety and good decision-making,” he said. “There is so much bad stuff out there. We’d like to try to find a way to balance that.”
In Oklahoma, he has been outspoken on such matters and a regular resource for media reports on childhood problems.
He will continue to live in Tulsa during his service to AAP — “it’s kind of like working from home” — but will spend a good bit of time in the Chicago headquarters and in Washington, where healthcare is a continuing public policy concern.
Staying in Oklahoma will also keep him close to his two daughters, one in Tulsa, the other in Edmond. Neither is in the medical field. Both are married and delivered him grandchildren four days apart about two years ago — a grandson in Tulsa, a granddaughter in Edmond.
As for his election, it is “a terrific honor…a big challenge…a great adventure.”
He said, “I was honored to even be asked to run…let alone actually be president.”
But, he said, “It is a great way to extend my service toward the end of my medical career.”