Children's author, and children's doctor, too

October 1, 2009

Profile of Charoltte Cowan, MD, a pediatrician who has written a series of children's books about common child maladies such as earaches and fevers.

One day while on call as a pediatric resident in the emergency department, Charlotte Cowan, MD, noticed how many kids with asthma were waiting to be treated. The children were all weary and frightened of the nebulizer, and of the hospital itself.

Raising three kids as a pediatrician doesn't leave much free time. But when her kids were older, Cowan took a sabbatical from her post at Massachusetts General Hospital to figure out how she wanted to write such a book. "When I began to write my stories," noted Cowan, "I looked up what the publishing world called 'sick books.' I found remarkably few."

The animal patients have clever connections to their diseases: the giraffe child gets a sore throat, and the elephant gets an earache. Dr. Hippo is an inside joke, too, about the Hippocratic oath. And what child could resist a book called The Moose with the Loose Poops?

Each story also comes with a glossy parent guide. "I could have written them in my sleep," Cowan laughed, since they are questions pediatricians know by heart. Her challenge was keeping them to the point.

The five books focus on everyday children's disorders: gastroenteritis, otitis media, fever, cold, and strep throat. Since their publication, Cowan has received requests for other books on everything from diabetes to celiac disease. She's even received manuscripts for new Dr. Hippo tales! Her next book will be about obesity.

To pass on even more information, Cowan started the Paging Dr. Hippo blog ( http://drhippo.com/blog/) this year. "Dr. Hippo" writes to a general audience on safe-parenting questions, and includes footnotes to the American Academy of Pediatrics and others. Cowan started her own publishing company, the Hippocratic Press, to release the series.

The books have some powerful fans: Cowan was invited to the White House in June for an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation gala honoring individuals who were positively "having an impact" on society. She was one of "less than a handful" there to represent health care.

"I was floored," she said. Not every person gets a pat on the back. Cowan got one from the President.