By Melanie Dunham
Ari Brown has been practicing pediatrics in Austin for nearly 20 years, has authored three books and several articles and has appeared as a medical
expert on NBC’s “Today” show among other
national programs. But to hear her speak about children’s health and her love for family, you’d think she was any other impassioned mom. Take a few minutes to get to know Dr. Ari Brown.
AF: What influenced your desire to be a pediatrician?
AB: When I was in high school, I planned to be a professional artist. (The art world can thank me now for going into medicine…I would have failed miserably.) My dad wanted to be a doctor, but the Korean War changed his plans. The next best thing was to have a child live out his dreams. I did an internship at a hospital my senior year in high school and fell in love with the labor and delivery unit. I was a part of the most amazing experience of people’s lives, several times every day. And, I got to play with babies. I thought to myself, people get paid to do this? What a great gig! I was hooked. Thirty years later, making newborn hospital rounds is still the very best part of my job.
AF: What do you feel is the biggest health issue facing families today?
AB: My biggest concern is that we are becoming an increasingly sedentary, indoor, plugged-in society. Some of the simple, but really crucial things in life – like playing outside, using imagination, and talking to friends face-to-face – have to be carved out in today’s overscheduled, over-digitalized world.
AF: If you could change one thing about children’s healthcare, what would it be?
AB: The business model needs to change. I fear that many families opt for convenience over quality, by heading to whatever convenient care clinic (CCC) is down the street. Kids are not little adults, and as such, they have different healthcare issues that are most appropriately addressed by providers who specialize in pediatric care (not always found at a CCC). And, when kids go to numerous providers, it leads to fractured healthcare that can overlook the bigger picture. Parents prefer convenient hours to take their kids to the doctor, which is why I opened my new practice with walk-in after hours care in the evenings and weekends.
AF: Tell us about your family.
AB: My husband and I met in medical school and have been married for 21 years now. We’ve been through internship, residency, and the first year of parenthood (much harder than the first two items on the list!) together. We have two truly wonderful, loving, bright kids. Our son is a senior in high school and our daughter is a freshman. It has really given me perspective as a pediatrician and the advice that I share with families.
AF: What do you enjoy most about raising a family in Austin?
AB: I have loved Austin since the time I moved here the first time for college. Yes, it’s weird and we embrace it. Collectively, this town has the mindset I want to instill in my kids – Austinites forge their own paths, don’t have to wear fancy clothes to go out on the town and find enjoyment in being outdoors. It’s such a great place to raise a family!
AF: Do you feel that Austin’s “fit city” reputation filters down to the younger residents?
AB: Kids take their cues from their parents. So, because many adult Austinites make health and physical activity a priority, it rubs off on the younger members of our community. In fact, I recently volunteered in the medical tent for the Colin’s Hope Kids Triathlon and witnessed over 350 kids participate! The rookie group of five and six-year olds sported training wheels on their bikes!
AF: With athletic programs taking more and more precautions against student injuries, do you feel they are on the right track or are additional measures needed?
AB: It’s a step in the right direction. There has been a huge change when it comes to head injuries and football. But, there is still work to be done. Believe it or not, cheerleading is one of the most injury-prone sports of all. It’s great to compete and take reasonable risks on the playing field, but a child’s health and safety should always come first.
AF: What advice do you have for parents regarding the recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis?
AB: It’s our job as parents to protect our kids. The very best way to protect our kids from potentially serious infectious diseases is to get them vaccinated. The measles outbreak in North Texas is a prime example of why even pockets of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people is a ripe opportunity for infections. Whooping cough is another story. We know that immunity to pertussis (whooping cough) does not last more than five to 10 years, whether a person gets vaccinated or gets the actual disease. That is why it is so important to get booster shots for it and why we recommend that pregnant women get a Tdap booster with every pregnancy.
AF: You’ve written three books and many articles. What inspired you to become an author in addition to a pediatrician?
AB: I finished my pediatric residency in 1995, the same year the Internet gained popularity. Parents could easily access to medical information – some accurate, some not – which, not surprisingly, led to more anxiety than reassurance. Practicing medicine became much more challenging, dispelling both old wives tales and Internet myths to empower families with solid science-based advice. I wanted to be proactive, instead of watching on the sidelines.
My friend Alan Fields, who authored and published the best selling baby gear guide “Baby Bargains,” suggested, “Maybe you should write a medical guide for parents.” After I accepted that offer a decade ago, I’ve written three best selling titles, “Expecting 411,” “Baby 411” and Toddler 411 (with updated editions every two years), authored articles in The Wall Street Journal and Parents magazine and had a weekly column at WebMD.com. Writing keeps me energized about what I do every day in the office – and my clinical work inspires me to write. And both careers require me to stay up to date with the most current research and guidelines for child health.
AF: If you could change something about your career or family path, what would you do differently?
AB: Write a book that doesn’t have to be updated every two years? Seriously, I never would have predicted that I would end up writing books, being on the “Today” show (yes, Matt Lauer is pretty handsome!) or opening my own pediatric practice (411 Pediatrics) after being a pediatrician for 18 years. I think I am just open to new adventures and I’m willing to take some risks. I wouldn’t change a thing!
And I absolutely would not change a thing about my family life. I made some professional sacrifices early in my career because I felt it was important to be at home more when my kids were little. I have no regrets and I feel good about the choices I made. I always advise young women that we can do it all, but we can’t do it all at the same time.
AF: Who would you say had the biggest influence on your life?
AB: My parents had a huge influence on me, because they raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to in my life, if I worked at it. And, I have had numerous mentors throughout my education and medical training. But I have to say that my husband, Mark, has been the biggest influence in my life. He was a fourth year medical student when I met him my first year at Baylor Medical School. Not only did he tutor me in biochemistry (I’m not sure if I would have graduated without him!), but he has always given me the confidence to really reach beyond the usual goals I set for myself. He believes in me, he supports me and he enables me to do all the crazy things that I do. And, I could never have become the professional, mom or spouse I have become without him at my side.
AF: Given a day free of obligations of any sort, how would you spend it?
AB: Wow, I don’t have too many of those days. I would probably sleep in, read the paper on my back porch, go for a walk with my dog on Lady Bird Lake and spend the rest of the day reconnecting with my family.
AF: Is there anything you would like to share with Austin Family readers?
AB: I am really proud to call Austin home, and I am so thankful the parenting and medical community has been so supportive of all my career and child health advocacy adventures over the years. I plan to serve Austin’s kids and families for many years in my new home at 411 Pediatrics and After Hours Care. It’s taken some time to get this new venture up and running, and I appreciate everyone’s patience. Our practice will serve all children in the Austin community and keep primary care providers in the loop if they are seen in after hours care. Come and visit or go online for more information at www.411pediatrics.com.