When George Phillips’ son was 17 months old, he noticed a lump on the back of the boy’s head and realized it was a swollen lymph node.
It was the first sign his son, Carter, had leukemia.
Within 36 hours, Carter had surgery to insert a port and began treatment. He would complete his active treatment before kindergarten and, as he grew older, barely remember the health scare.
But for his father — an award-winning pediatrician with extensive academic credentials and longtime involvement with the AAP — the episode provided a deeper appreciation for his profession and the difference it can make.
“As a pediatrician, you know you’re going to encounter a child with a life-threatening illness. But for it to happen with your only child at the time, is something you can’t prepare for,” said George C. Phillips, M.D., M.B.A., FAAP. “It's a club you never want to be part of. But that experience — to be the parent of a child with a life-threatening disease — has influenced how I view pediatrics and medicine. It’s just another perspective I have.”
Various perspectives, broad achievements
Indeed, Dr. Phillips’ career has been defined by the various perspectives he brings to his work. In addition to serving as director of the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at both Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and the University of Kansas (KU) Medical Center, he has an M.B.A. and a background in sports medicine. He leads more than 70 pediatricians in the Kansas City area.
And after two decades of AAP service, he has been nominated to run for AAP president-elect. With the election scheduled for this fall, Dr. Phillips’ colleagues say the Academy would benefit from his collaborative leadership style and his willingness to speak out on behalf of children.
“He’s just always been on the side of what’s right. He's always been advocating for children and families, and he’s willing to speak up to protect those children and families,” said longtime colleague Michael Artman, M.D., FAAP, who is pediatrics chair at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Kansas. “As a leader, George is masterful. Everyone who’s going to be impacted by his decision gets to give their thoughts or express their feelings on the subject. He makes everyone feel like their voice is being heard.”
A South Carolina native, Dr. Phillips received his undergraduate degree from Duke University in 1993. After attending medical school at the University of South Carolina, he completed both his pediatrics residency and a sports medicine fellowship at the University of Kentucky.
Upon completing his residency, he accepted a position at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, where he later became the inaugural chief of primary sports medicine for the school’s sports medicine center. He also served in several leadership roles in the pediatrics department, including medical director of continuity clinics and director of child advocacy.
Dr. Phillips earned an executive M.B.A. from the University of Iowa Tippie School of Management in 2014 and joined Children’s Mercy and KU the following year. In his current position since 2015, he has overseen the development of a single, integrated pediatric program among several entities: Children’s Mercy Kansas City, the University of Kansas Hospital, the University of Kansas Medical Center and The University of Kansas Physicians.
Throughout his career, Dr. Phillips has made the AAP a top priority. He became officially involved during his second year of residency, when he went to the annual meeting and answered a call for a District IV assistant resident coordinator.
He continued to serve in various leadership positions, including Iowa Chapter president from 2008-’10. He also has represented District VI — which stretches from Missouri to Saskatchewan — on the AAP Committee on Membership.
"George has been very active in the AAP since he was a resident. He has the experience as a general pediatrician and a subspecialist in sports medicine, so he knows and understands the needs of both of those groups,” said Ken L. Cheyne, M.D., FAAP, who was vice president of the Iowa Chapter during Dr. Phillips’ presidency. “He has dedicated his life to advocating for patients and their families.”
If elected, Dr. Phillips wants the Academy to continue to amplify the adversities children and families face on a daily basis. He also wants to improve diversity among health care teams because he has witnessed how important it can be.
“We know that the best outcomes are achieved when patients identify with their health care team. When a person on the team looks like you, talks like you, comes from the same neighborhood as you, you’re more apt to open up to that person,” he said. “We had a young patient we couldn't figure out what was going on with until she decided to open up to a member of our team who was the same gender and race she was. And she admitted to have suicidal thoughts. Because of that confidence she had with our team member, we were able to help her.”
In his spare time, Dr. Phillips enjoys traveling and spending time outdoors with his wife, son and two daughters. They go skiing and camping together, as well as attend sporting events and concerts.
Dr. Phillips initially wondered if his AAP candidacy would take too much time away from his family, but his wife, Robin, alleviated his concerns.
“She emphasized how important it was for our kids to see me pursuing my dream,” he said.
More than a decade after his successful battle against leukemia, 15-year-old Carter now keeps busy with high school and club soccer teams, refereeing soccer matches and marching in the school band. He also is involved in an informal group of young cancer survivors.
He doesn’t remember much about his illness, except the fun moments such as trick-or-treating at the hospital. But his parents remember everything.
“This is a life experience that will always stay with you,” Dr. Phillips said. “I feel it’s a very important story to share because it’s a story with a good ending. Hopefully, his story will help other families maintain hope.”
Read about AAP president-elect candidate Sara “Sally” Goza, M.D., FAAP, at http://www.aappublications.org/news/2018/07/31/sallygoza073118.