Volume 16 • Issue 35 | January 30 - February 05, 2004

Back to basics

Tribeca’s popular ‘country doctor’ with a new book appealing to ‘good common sense’

By Tracy Montgomery

Dr. Michel Cohen greets Mara Gordon, 8, at a book signing party on Saturday that drew 1,300 people.

There is a place with an orange-trimmed awning on Harrison Street that seems to call out to passersby. At first glance, it appears to be a cafe. Once inside, Top 40 music plays in the background and attractive women sit in the stylishly modern front room not nursing drinks, but nursing babies.

This is the home of Tribeca Pediatrics and Dr. Michel Cohen, author of “The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent.”

He has been profiled in GQ and the New York Observer and has been named the “must have” pediatrician by the New York Post. It was the profile in the New York Observer that attracted the attention of Harper Collins and led to the deal with Regan Books.

“I wanted to cater to parents who have good common sense and give them guidance,” Cohen said. “A lot of what I try to do is prevent things before the problem arises.”

Cohen’s approach to pediatrics is one of “low intervention,” and much of his book is about using a common-sense approach and a wait-and-see attitude toward childhood ailments before rushing to treat them.

Some of his clients have described him as the closest thing to a country doctor in New York City. It is perhaps the combination of his philosophy toward pediatrics and the setup of his office space. Initially, his home was located directly behind his medical offices.

He moved into new offices across the street from his home while writing his book. Cohen is still only steps away from his office, which is important to the kind of practice he runs and his overall philosophy toward medicine.

“The point is to distinguish the situations where you need to act and the others where you can wait and see,” Cohen said. “The philosophy of the book is plain and simple – if you need something do it and if you don’t need something, don’t do it.”

Cohen received his medical training in Nice, France and completed residencies at Bellevue Hospital Center and Long Island College Hospital. He has three daughters with his wife Jeannie, an artist who helped design his new office.

The idea of limited intervention in pediatric medicine has recently been gaining popularity, as evidenced in recent articles in “Pediatrics” and other medical journals. Cohen feels that things are overdone in pediatrics and that doctors need to use less of a cookie-cutter approach to treatment.

Some of his views are considered controversial. For example, instead of immediately prescribing antibiotics for ear infections, Cohen believes it is best to let the infection run its course, as many ear infections heal on their own without need of a prescription, he said.

“The systematic use of antibiotics has made kids resistant to them, so in a way we killed our best weapon by over-treating ear infections,” Cohen said.

In his book, Cohen says attention-deficit disorder is over diagnosed and that developmental issues have been overly scrutinized.

“With kids there is a lot of over-intervention — a big area is the developmental area,” said Cohen. “All of a sudden a kid that doesn’t sit up at seven months old is labeled and they go to occupational therapy — there is a tendency to overdo things.“

The tone of the book is casual and conversational, which is something Cohen tried hard to achieve. He wanted to avoid repeating the trend toward single-issue parenting books, i.e. the “best potty training method or best way to get your baby to sleep.” On the other hand, he didn’t want an encyclopedic general pediatrics book, either.

“The voice was important to me and to come up with a voice that was not condescending but friendly and accessible and colloquial,” said Cohen.

He wrote the book over a year and a half, spending many late nights and weekends on the effort. Initially, he worked with a writer provided by his publisher, but it didn’t work out and he wound up rewriting the book.

“The writer didn’t really get it – I was spitting out the text and it came out distorted – he was putting on a voice of what a doctor should sound like, an authoritative ‘I am the doctor’ that wasn’t me,” Cohen said.

Cohen attributes his popularity to his unique style and approach to medicine.

“The first thing that people look for in a doctor is to look them in the eye and be with them, be personable – if you are personable you will be successful,” Cohen said.

His practice has been in Tribeca for a decade and has grown from being a sole practitioner’s office to a group practice.

“It is no longer my practice and it has evolved into a general philosophy,” Cohen said. “People are coming for the philosophy rather than to come see me in particular, which is very gratifying.”

His laidback approach, reflected in his modern, yet comfortable waiting room, carries over to the book. The design of the book, both inside and out, was also important to him.

“We wanted a very appealing book, something a bit modern,” Cohen said. “We wanted something well designed and accessible to give the reader something more on the cutting edge.”

The cover photo and jacket art was shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, the mother of one of his patients. Inside, the book is organized in an easy-to-read alphabetical index by topic, covering everything from breastfeeding to toilet training.

“This book served the purpose of coming from a doctor who takes a strong stance on over-prescription and over-treatment and I think this is one of its novelties, without being on the alternative side,” said Cohen. “I tried to come with a good common-sense approach with reliable information.”

Dr. Cohen to write new monthly column

Dr. Michel Cohen will be writing a monthly column for the Downtown Express beginning in February.

“It is very exciting for me to have a voice and I will try as best I can to choose a wide variety of topics, and some that are even a little bit controversial,” said Cohen.


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