Somewhere down in Pediatrician Dr. Kevin Hatcher-Ross’s basement is a dusty box full of plaid and pinstriped ties necessary to make a professional impression. But he hasn’t touched them in years. They don’t work to put parents at ease or capture children’s attention. Not like a Snoopy or Elmo tie.
What’s more, Dr. Hatcher-Ross has enough fun ones to go a month and a half without repeats. For the last 10 years, his mom and wife have been helping him expand his collection. Ties have become one of his signature traits, with patients commenting about what he’s wearing when they come in.
“Elephants in bathing suits, all kids like,” he says. “And the cows tie all kids like. I was not expecting that one to be such a hit. The big kids get excited about the soccer tie.”
He also wears silly socks—but he says that it’s mostly the kids who notice them because they’re closer to the ground.
Dressing to please his littlest patients is just one of the methods Dr. Hatcher-Ross has developed to make going to the doctor fun for kids. You’ll also find him checking for heartbeats in elbows and asking kindergarteners if they have their driver’s license.
“What I especially like about this job is that on the one hand I know all this stuff that’s helpful for parents, but I’m an expert that gets to be silly, joke around, engage kids, and win them over,” he says. “Sometimes I want to pinch myself that I lucked out.”
In fact, Dr. Hatcher-Ross tried on a number of careers before he found the one. He earned a bachelor of science in applied mathematics from Yale University and went on to work at the National Institutes of Health doing biochemistry research. He also dabbled in physics research, worked as an actuary for a summer, and taught for a year in Korea. It was teaching overseas that finally clicked. He realized that what was missing among all the computer and pipetting work he had done was the kids.
Dr. Hatcher-Ross completed a master of science in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and got into medical school. He then earned a doctor of medicine from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, completing an internship and residency in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
“With the exception of teaching, I never liked any job before this,” he says.
It’s a passion that comes through in more ways than his ties. When he talks about his patients, he unabashedly calls them “my kids”—even while he has three of his own at home.
“When you see a kid over and over again you get to know them. I’m not taking care of the disease, I’m taking care of the kid,” says Dr. Hatcher-Ross, who has been practicing at the clinic for more than a decade, which is long enough to start seeing pediatric patients he has cared for come in with kids of their own.
He particularly appreciates how the clinic’s Pediatrics Department supports his efforts to care for the same kids over time and fits them in when they are unexpectedly ill. The continuity is unique among health care groups and extremely valuable, he says.
While families sometimes come in with puzzling conditions or symptoms, most of Dr. Hatcher-Ross’s days are filled with simply talking to his kids and teaching parents, nearly all of whom are eager to learn everything they can to help their children get and stay healthy. And they’re already doing lots of things right.
“Most of my parents read to their kids. I love that,” he says. “Most families eat the majority of their meals at home, and I think that’s awesome. Long-term, the way to be healthy is to move around and eat a variety of unprocessed foods.”
His own family follows the advice he gives his kids. They do a lot of cooking together, making dinner with whatever is in season or enjoying East-Asian cuisine. They go hiking in the Columbia River Gorge or around Mount Hood, and maybe fit in some time playing or watching soccer. They’re also avid readers, with his 11-year-old plowing through tween dystopian fiction, and Dr. Hatcher-Ross consuming seven to eight medical journals a month, a testament to his background in research.
“I think providing families with the most up-to-date medical knowledge and taking the time to be goofy with kids and include them in their care is really important in pediatrics, and that’s what I strive to do every day,” he says.
The Calvin and Hobbes on his tie grin in agreement.