Interview with Andy Auerbach
A Conversation with Andy Auerbach, Associate Professor in Residence: An Exclusive Interview by Niraj
I’m disappointed. I expected you in a tuxedo for this interview, or at least a bow tie. Explain yourself.
I left my blazer and tie in the car.
Actually, talk about your occasional bow tie, the colorful socks, and the cyclical nature of your facial hair. How do you pull it together every day?
They operate on independent schedules and biorhythms of their own. I wear the bow tie mostly when I feel like pissing off Bob for reasons other than not having written enough papers. I have a lot of odd socks that have been given to me by my kids for Father’s Day; and the facial hair is just the result of a recurring disorder. I’ve had full beards, no beards, goatees, and the chin. I’m going to go for the soul patch next I think.
Life story time. Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?
Probably. I tried to tell myself I didn’t want to be a doctor but my dad was a doctor, his best friends were doctors, and my mom was a nurse. I always viewed my career being in healthcare somewhere but if you asked my siblings they would say I was going to be a doctor from the womb.
Were there experiences you had with your mom or dad in healthcare that influenced the decision, such as following him around on rounds or things of that nature?
My dad used to take me on rounds on Sundays every so often and drop me off at the nurse’s station with a box of doughnuts. It was my introduction to good teamwork and communication (laughs), but it was mostly me with a bag of doughnuts and bagels, and having the nurses give me lots of pinched cheeks and say, “Look how cute he is!”
How is that different than now? (laughs)
Yeah, well, it hasn’t changed much! (laughs)
Sorry, back to your Dad.
My dad was of the last generation of the old school docs that finished residency, did a year at the Joslin clinic, and then hung out a shingle where he became the town doctor. He was actually more a county doctor where I grew up- the first real diabetes specialist between New York and Hartford, which was a big deal.
How about becoming a researcher?
I have always been interested in the meta-thinking of why we’re doing the things we’re doing in a hospital. I also went to Dartmouth for med school where evidence-based medicine, the Dartmouth atlas, and clinical epidemiology were in the water to a certain extent. I thought it was really interesting and a neat way to frame my professional life. Up to the middle of my first year of fellowship I was still thinking that if this research thing didn’t work out at least I would run a really good journal club. Fortunately, I had some early successes and realized I could do it reasonably well. It’s not without its ups and downs but that’s part of running a small entrepreneurial business.
Did it start with the Vicks 44? Why is it more than a cough syrup to you?
Actually my research career started before the Vicks Formula 44. I worked for Novo, who we know now as insulin makers, but at that time they actually made more money off of industrial enzymes. One thing they did was to make enzymes that turned regular corn syrup into high fructose corn syrup. It helped make Coke taste good and people fat.
So you were helping create all the diabetes that your dad was working hard to treat? That’s quite a family business.
Yeah, the obesity epidemic began with me in a small laboratory in Wilton, CT in 1986.
And pediatrics Vicks 44?
That was a “fell into my lap” job when I was without one after finishing third year in college. One of our neighbors was the CEO of Vicks and needed people, so I went to work with this guy who wore Hawaiian shirts every day and had a pig roast a couple times a year. It was great! We formulated all of their cough syrups to try to make them taste better for kids.
You’ve been in our Division a while, and some might even call you old, except for maybe Bob and Steve. What’s been most striking to you as you’ve watched our Division grow and mature over the years?
The size and the diversity have become incredible. When I first took this job, it was a relatively new idea. There wasn’t a lot of precedent for what we were doing, and we were kind of building our plane in the air.
I know how much you adore your kids, Ben and Maggie. What’s fatherhood done to you?
20 pounds and a lot less hair. I knew I couldn’t be a pediatrician before and I definitely can’t do it now. Sick kids, hurt kids- it’s just so hard. Fatherhood has completely repartitioned my day. I get an hour in the morning and three to four hours at night with them so I’ve tried to reorganize my work day around them. One of my best friends from medical school told me that his kids were the funniest things he’d ever experienced in his life, and it’s true. They make you laugh a lot.
Who finds you more entertaining: Ben, Maggie, or your wife, Kris?
Well, Maggie’s younger so she’s an easier audience right now.
What about Ben and Kris?
Uh, they’ve learned how to tolerate me.
Describe a perfect weekend at household Auerbach.
No schedule. That’s it. Our life is more complicated with ballet and birthday parties these days. What we look forward to most is being able to pick our schedule so we can have good friends over, barbeque, and hang out.
You’re a Yankees fan and your son plays for my team, the Cubs. What happens if he turns into a Cubs fan?
It’s okay. It’s the National League. The problem is going to be when he gets older and all his friends are Giants fans around here.
You’re a big sports fan. You have no cable TV or ESPN. Explain yourself.
The Internet, ESPN, and sports apps all keep me in the loop. I also have a neighbor now who is a really good guy and lets me watch TV through his window.
You’re having your last supper and there are 5 chairs around the table. Who’s invited?
Winston Churchill would definitely be one. Steve Martin, I just read his biography and he’s not only hilarious but also really smart. I think he’d be fun to hang out with. Yogi Berra would have to be there. Einstein, but he’s too easy. Everyone wants to talk to Einstein, but it would be good to hear his thinking. That might be the list right now. I’m a biography buff so there are a lot of people I would invite but they’re all kind of the stock people. I’ll stop there.
Thanks, man. This was fun. I’m glad I was asking the questions.
Be careful what you wish for...
- by Niraj Sehgal