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Pediatrician pens book on keeping teens happy, healthy, alive

Robert Michael Cavanaugh MD specializes in adolescent medicine at Upstate.

Robert Michael Cavanaugh MD specializes in adolescent medicine at Upstate.

Most pediatricians are attracted to the specialty because they want to take care of babies. Robert Michael Cavanaugh, Jr. MD champions the pediatricians who focus on adolescent medicine and hopes his book, “Dying to be Perfect: How Teens Can Stay Happy, Healthy and Alive” will help raise awareness of the sub-specialty.

Cavanaugh was interviewed about the book on Health Link on Air radio at 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 8 -- on Newsradio 106.9 / AM 570 WSYR. He hosts a book signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at Barnes & Noble in DeWitt.

“In this community, most pediatricians are trained in adolescent medicine, but that‘s not their passion,” says Cavanaugh, a father of four who has been Upstate‘s director of adolescent medicine since 1981. Karen Teelin MD is joining the department to focus on adolescent care, too.

bookcoverCavanaugh's book acknowledges that many adolescents succumb to pressure about how to look, feel and act as they grow within a society obsessed with perfection and immediate gratification. He uses a novel approach to reduce teen risk-taking behaviors, and he uses the metaphor of space flight to write about the three major maturational stages of adolescence. He uses several real-life stories throughout.

He says people may be surprised how much a teenager will open up to a doctor, if that doctor makes the time to listen. He's critical of assembly-line physicals, popular with student athletes, which offer no anticipatory guidance and are unlikely to have any impact on the leading causes of death among adolescents: accidents, homicides and suicides, all of which, Cavanaugh says, “are almost completely preventable.”

For physicians to conduct a thorough exam takes time, but Cavanaugh says it is a hallmark of quality adolescent health care. “Doctors need to think about are they committed to the concept of adolescent health care,” he says. Are appointment times available outside of the normal workday? Is the office staff teen-friendly? Are rooms outfitted with appropriate exam tables?

Cavanaugh says because adolescent visits can be lengthy, doctors in busy practices don‘t have time to devote, especially because reimbursements from health insurers are so low, compared with other types of patient visits. “If reimbursement was better, reimbursement for time spent, more people would do this. It‘s just a matter of economics,” he says.

Cavanaugh and Teelin welcome referrals for second opinions and consultations. Among the services they provide: behavioral evaluation and counseling, comprehensive physicals and preventive exams, contraceptive counseling, gynecologic exams, immunizations, pregnancy testing and counseling, risk-reduction assessment and counseling, sports physicals as part of a comprehensive exam and substance abuse evaluation and referral.

Reach them at 315-464-5831

Learn more about the "Dying to be Perfect" book

Listen to his radio interview.

Tune into Health Link on Air Sunday, Nov. 8.