The pediatrician-author of this autobiography was the first Jewish professor of medicine at the prestigious McGill University.

Born in Montreal in 1890, Alton was an only child whose immigrant father was an itinerant merchant with somewhat shady dealings. The shy boy developed hemoptysis and was sent away from home and family to the healthier air of Denver on the erroneous suspicion of tuberculosis.

He overcame shyness and found an ability to speak in acting and “declaiming” passages from Shakespeare. Literature remained a lifelong passion. Notwithstanding the quotas on Jewish students, he attended McGill medical school, followed by residency in the United States where he encountered many luminaries of twentieth-century pediatrics.  

Upon his return to Montreal, he confronted entrenched anti-semitism, but was instrumental in founding the Jewish General Hospital and a children’s hospital. He witnessed exciting medical discoveries and, like many other pediatricians, championed initiatives for child health that relied on social intervention.

The book closes with a few case histories of small patients, many of whom fell ill because of parental and societal ignorance.


This life is told in remarkably clear prose with a delightful sense of irony. Among its many virtues, the book is a readable introduction to the history of the fledgling specialty of pediatrics. Dr. Goldbloom describes, without belaboring, the great obstacle of pervasive anti-semitism in medicine and his personal satisfaction at sweeping (some of) it away. Although it does not form a large part of this book, Dr. Goldbloom was also a steady contributor to the Jewish community in Canada.

His name, Alton, derived from Alter (elder), was chosen as an appeal to the protection of ancestors: before his birth his parents had already lost several infants. As a precious and precocious only child, he grew in tolerance and confidence facing each new challenge with simplicity and determination. We can only speculate on whether or not that background conditioned his choice of pediatrics.

The author’s singular verve and his passion for clinical medicine shine through the story, and his astonishingly detailed memories of schooling and teachers are captivating.  But he wrote little about his wife.

 He fathered a dynasty of physicians who continue to make great contributions of their own: in addition to his two sons, Victor and Richard, both distinguished professors of pediatrics, a grandson and great-granddaughter –Alan and Ellen--are also pediatricians and another grandson, David, is an eminent psychiatrist who—extrapolating on the Shakespeare connection--also serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Stratford Festival.

The author’s love of literature, his commitment to social welfare, and his tales of mid-twentieth-century medical and academic struggle, “Small Patients” is a worthy choice for users of this database and their students.



Place Published

Philadelphia and New York



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