Al Philippart Chair of Pediatric Surgery,
Wayne State University School of Medicine
Children's Hospital of Michigan, Detroit
President, American Pediatric Surgical Association (2015)
“My career-long interest in adapting surgical techniques to the pediatric population began during my residency."
Pediatric surgeon Michael Klein, MD, has plenty to boast about — if he were
the type to brag. He is the Arvin I. Philippart, MD, Endowed Chair in
Pediatric Surgical Research at Wayne State University and Children’s
Hospital of Michigan, where he formerly served as surgeon-in-chief and
director of two surgical training programs. Recognized nationally for his
work, Klein is also president-elect of the American Pediatric Surgical
Association. And in 2012 he became the first pediatric surgeon ever to be
nominated for the presidency of the American Academy of Pediatrics,
eventually becoming the runner up.
But what Dr. Klein is most proud of is making a difference in the lives of
children. “When I was training as a surgeon, pediatrics was just emerging
as a subspecialty,” Dr. Klein says. “I like to think I’ve helped advance
the field in some small way.”
Dr. Klein didn’t set out to become a surgeon. He majored in medieval
history at the University of Chicago and began graduate studies in the
field at Princeton University. “Like a lot of people who came of age in the
1960s, I experienced a relevance crisis,” he says. “As much as I enjoyed
studying medieval history, it didn’t seem to help anyone.”
So he decided to apply to medical school. First, he bolstered his academic
credentials by attending graduate school in chemistry at Case Western
Reserve University in Cleveland. He did so well he was awarded a
scholarship to attend Case Western’s medical school. “The faculty at the
medical school who most impressed me were the surgeons,” Dr. Klein says,
“and I discovered I liked doing procedures.”
After an internship at the University of Washington, Dr. Klein began his
residency at the Fifth (Harvard) Surgical Service (the predecessor to
BIDMC’s Department of Surgery), then based at Boston City Hospital. Ever
eager for new challenges, Dr. Klein decided to take two years to do
laboratory research and perform surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. The
time at Children’s proved pivotal: Dr. Klein decided to become a pediatric
surgeon. “Children are more than ‘little adults,’” Dr. Klein points out.
“My career-long interest in adapting surgical techniques to the pediatric
population began then.”
Dr. Klein resumed his residency just as William V. McDermott, MD, then its
director, relocated the Fifth (Harvard) Surgical Service to New England
Deaconess Hospital. As a result, Dr. Klein finished his training as chief
resident at the Deaconess — where he met a surgeon who remains a lifelong
influence — Frank C. Wheelock Jr., MD.
“Frank Wheelock was my foster father in surgery,” Dr. Klein says. “He was
an elegant surgeon with meticulous technique. From Frank, I learned not
only about surgery but also the responsibility of taking care of patients.”
After holding positions at the University of New Mexico and the University
of Michigan, in 1983 Dr. Klein joined the Children’s Hospital of Michigan
and Wayne State University, where he has been ever since. In addition to
his clinical work and teaching, Dr. Klein is a prolific researcher, with
nearly 250 papers published in peer-reviewed journals. He has also authored
or collaborated on chapters in 24 textbooks.
In his rare free time, Dr. Klein likes to take adventure vacations with his
wife, Peggy, and the couple’s children. Dr. Klein has explored Machu
Picchu, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and hiked across Wales. “I like a
challenge,” he says.
And that, of course, would be an understatement.