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Dr. Benard Dreyer speaks at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting

Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, speaks at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Toronto after accepting the Joseph W. St. Geme, Jr. Leadership Award. 

Dr. Dreyer accepts prestigious leadership award for work in immigrant health, combating child poverty

May 7, 2024

When Constance Dreyer was diagnosed with cancer, she made her husband, Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, promise to carry on what had been decades of caring for children who are immigrants and those living in poverty. 

As Dr. Dreyer accepted the prestigious Joseph W. St. Geme, Jr. Leadership Award in early May, he dedicated it to Constance, who died in 2015. The AAP past president (2016) urged his fellow pediatricians to be leaders in their own communities.

“Don’t wait for someone else to lead change or wait for some other time to act,” he said at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) meeting in Toronto. “Act now. Lead change now. … Together we can accomplish many great things. Together we can create a better world for children and families.”

The leadership award comes from the Federation of Pediatric Organizations (FOPO), which is composed of seven pediatric organizations including the AAP. The group called Dr. Dreyer “a leader with a lifetime record of significant contributions to child health and the profession of pediatrics.”

Dr. Dreyer is a general and developmental-behavioral pediatrician who has been working at Bellevue Hospital in New York City since 1976. He leads its primary care program, which includes co-located mental and oral health services and clinics in homeless shelters. He also is a professor of pediatrics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine where he is involved in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at both the department and university levels.

“Dr. Dreyer doesn’t hold back from the fierce conversations on protecting children and families from racism, bias, discrimination and hatred in all its forms,” said Renée R. Jenkins, M.D., FAAP, AAP past president (2007-’08), as she introduced him at the conference. The two go back about 50 years to when he was her chief resident.

As AAP president, Dr. Dreyer visited the U.S.-Mexico border and shepherded the policy Poverty and Child Health in the United States. He now is overseeing an update to the policy.

Dr. Dreyer also has been president of the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) and served on the boards of PAS and FOPO. He has won an array of awards, including the AAP’s prestigious Clifford C. Grulee Award, the APA Armstrong Lectureship Award, the New York University Distinguished Teaching Award and the APA Public Policy and Advocacy Award. He also has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed research publications, many of which focus on improvements in primary care, family homelessness, immigrant health, literacy, inpatient safety and long COVID.

In 2019, Dr. Dreyer was part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee that produced the report Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which called for a reformed child tax credit. The Biden administration enacted it in 2021, and the child poverty rate dropped by almost half.

“In summary, Dr. Dreyer has made a major impact on children and families, improving their pediatric care and advocating for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves,” FOPO said. “He is always trying to correct health inequities and improve the future for all children and families.”

Dr. Dreyer said his advocacy for immigrant families was inspired by his parents. He remembers his mother telling him how she came to the U.S. alone from Eastern Europe at just 11 years old, crying every night. Their experiences shaped his affection for immigrant families and his advocacy against racism and hatred.

“I was lucky enough from my medical school days at NYU and Bellevue and for the rest of my career to have had the privilege of partnering with poor families, often immigrants, often people of color to care for and help them parent their children,” Dr. Dreyer said. “They educated me about the impact of poverty in the richest country in the world and were role models for me of resolve, resilience and rectitude. I owe them everything, and I sit at their feet in admiration.”

He urged pediatricians to protect the DEI programs at their institutions and care for the immigrant children coming to their communities, saying, “They need all the health care and loving kindness you can provide.”

He also called on pediatricians to advocate for reinstating the reformed child tax credit, which was shown to make a huge difference in child poverty rates but was not funded by Congress.

“Fight the good fight for reinstating the reformed child tax credit and battle on for as long as it takes,” he said. “In the end, we must succeed for the sake of children.”

Dr. Dreyer said it was the “thrill of a lifetime” to receive the award and called Dr. St. Geme Jr. a “consummate pediatrician.” He also credited his colleagues, saying, “Everything I’ve accomplished in combating child poverty or furthering immigrant health or more recently promoting an anti-racism agenda was accomplished with a band of brothers and sisters.”

“What a privilege it is to be a pediatrician,” he said. “Often, I feel I have made a positive difference in the lives of children living in poverty. Frequently, I feel I’m helping them on their pathway to success. Once in a great while, I have actually saved a child’s life with my own hands or stayed with them when they needed someone to care about them or comforted them in times near the end of their lives or mourned for them with their families. Those times are burned in my memory and my soul.”

Additional coverage of the 2024 PAS meeting

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