Healing kids is in the DNA of a local doctor
March 31, 2015
The son of an orthopedic surgeon who could trace the practice of medicine through four generations of his lineage, Dr. Jeffrey Botkin grew up knowing a path into the medical field was waiting for him if he wanted it.
"Medicine was always a possibility on the horizon as I got older and looked for the appropriate opportunities for me," he said. "I was always interested in biology and the problem-solving aspect of medicine. It was a logical choice for me."
What Botkin didn’t know when he chose to become a pediatrician after earning an undergraduate degree in biology at Princeton is where that path would take him.
Botkin, who lives in the Jeremy Ranch neighborhood, has spent a significant portion of his career treating sick children at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. But he also has become a leading professor and academic in medical ethics at the University of Utah, where he has taught since 1992. He currently serves as chief of the university’s Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities and associate vice president of research integrity.
His role at the university is one he could not have predicted as a medical student in the late 1970s.
"There was no such thing as medical ethics education," he said. "So I never would have guessed that I would have ended up in this field. But once I became exposed to some of those issues, it became clear that was the right avenue for me to pursue in medicine."
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Botkin’s primary area of interest is examining how ethical issues relate to the study of genetics. He said his involvement in some of the earliest research examining families’ behavioral responses to genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer is one of the aspects of his career of which he’s most proud.
Being among the first to wade into such issues in a fast-moving field like genetics has been a gratifying experience, he said.
"Of course, the University of Utah has always been a powerhouse in the genetics field," Botkin said. "So being able to think through and work through some of the ethical, legal and social issues there has been a wonderful opportunity.
"When you have a relatively new field and relatively new technologies, there’s a real opportunity to get involved in questions that haven’t been answered before. It’s rewarding to be able to feel like you have an impact on issues at both, potentially, the local level as well as the national level."
Not to be lost amid his academic work, Botkin also spent decades doing what he’d set out to do when he first entered the medical field — caring for children. He quit practicing as a physician nearly 10 years ago, but he never tired of watching sick children get better.
"To see the kids grow through the course of your practice was really quite a reward," Botkin said. "As well as the basic fact that the vast majority of kids get better from what they’re ailing with, which isn’t so much true for adults. So working with kids was a wonderful opportunity."
Knowing his career might have turned out differently if he’d never come to Utah, Botkin, a Pennsylvania native, is grateful he fell in love with the West during medical school in Colorado — which led to him accepting a position at Primary Children’s Hospital. Over the course of nearly 25 years, he’s come to call the state — and the Park City area, specifically — home.
"We have absolutely loved it here," he said. "We came when they were just putting in Walmart, and there was a K-Mart just across the way. State Road) 224 was just getting expanded. We were there for a lot of those important changes early on and have just seen the town continue to expand. It’s nice to see everybody recognize what a wonderful place it is."
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