First Person

A BMC doctor’s work in wellness extends beyond office hours

Boston Medical Center pediatrician Sean Palfrey on volunteerism’s rewards.

(Dina Rudick/Globe staff)

Being a pediatrician means taking care of children in every way possible. We have the privilege of caring for the whole child, plus their siblings, their family, and in some cases their community.

The most important part of my work at the Yawkey Outpatient Center is framing what I do to help the child and the family to foster good health, and to educate them about medicine, health, behavior, and development. One reason I’ve been at Boston Medical Center for so long  is the mission of the hospital: “exceptional care, without exception.” That is important, because my patients often come from low-income and difficult community settings.


The Jack B. McConnell Award [for Excellence in Volunteerism] is hugely gratifying, because there’s only so much you can do in a professional setting. What I’ve tried to do with the rest of my life is to work on parts of child wellness, family wellness, and community wellness that would not fall under anybody’s definition of being a pediatrician. I see myself as a teacher. This teaching is not just relevant to the direct health of the child, but all the other elements of life like housing, food, environment, and education.

That extends to the people who aren’t primary caretakers. I teach parenting to the incarcerated men at the Suffolk House of Correction. They care about their children. I speak to them about how they can reintegrate themselves into their children’s lives, and be important influences.

My wife, Dr. Judy Palfrey, and I have been the housemasters of Adams House at Harvard for 16 years. This has been a rewarding extension of our professional lives, because we work with young people maturing into adulthood. It’s an energizing and exciting way for us to continue our contact and mentorship. We are engaged with the lives of children from zero to 35.


HONORS Earlier this month, Palfrey was recognized by the American Medical Association with the Jack B. McConnell Award, which honors a senior physician’s commitment to the treatment of those without access to care.