Most parents can easily explain to a pediatrician their reason for bringing their child to the doctor’s office, but for Dr. Allyson Salek, that’s not the only version of events that she likes to hear.
“Whenever possible, I like to hear from the children,” she says. “Sometimes, it might take the child five minutes to say something the parent could probably summarize in 30 seconds, but when you take the time to listen to the child, you learn a lot.”
It’s that love of the child, specifically, that first drew Dr. Salek to her line of work.
As a child growing up in Wallingford, she remembers always wanting to be a doctor. And when she attended medical school at the University of Connecticut, she considered going into obstetrics and gynecology, “but I realized quickly that I was much more interested in the baby than in the OB/GYN aspects of care,” she says.
“I love to let a child tell a story and tell me what’s really going on,” she adds. “Kids are pretty straightforward. A 4-year-old will always tell it like it is, even if it’s sometimes embarrassing to the parents. They don’t have the filter that adults have, and I really love that stage of development.”
Dr. Salek, of course, knows that her job also requires a healthy dialogue with parents, and for that aspect of the job, she believes it helps that she’s a mother with two children of her own, ages 3 and 4.
Dr. Salek’s biggest take-home message for most parents is the same thing she tries to practice at home with her own kids: healthy habits.
“I try to make sure we do the things at home that I’m always encouraging my patients and their families to do,” she says, “and that includes eating right, getting regular exercise, and shutting off the TV.”
Before arriving in New London, Dr. Salek spent a few years working as a pediatrician at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She says she was impressed with how families in that western mountain city tended to get outdoors and enjoy nature, hiking trails and riding bikes, for example. Returning to her home state, she noticed that families seem to have less time for things like that.
“Families in our area are very busy, and it’s sometimes hard to choose a healthy path for ourselves and our children,” she says. “I think it’s really the role of a pediatrician to push families toward preventative measures and healthy lifestyles. Hopefully, if we can do that, we can save kids from having health problems later in life, such as obesity and diabetes.”
Dr. Salek’s specific recommendations for children include eating five fruits and vegetables each day, getting three servings of dairy each day, avoiding more than two hours of “screen time” per day, exercising for at least one hour each day, and avoiding sugary beverages such as soda and juices.
Dr. Salek often makes rounds at L+M, and while she is new to the area, she thinks the hospital is a good one. “I especially like that L+M has its own Newborn Intensive Care Unit,” she says.
While Dr. Salek is still new to the area and familiarizing herself, so far she says, “It’s great being here.”
She continued, “I love being a mom, and I love being a physician. You know, I just really enjoy working with kids. I can honestly say I have the best job on earth.”