Get to Know Neonatologist and Peruvian American, Dr. Prem Fort

Dr. Prem Fort with a patient family

Dr. Fort visiting with his patient and parents.

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Fall 2022

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is home to a 97-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) offering the highest level of care. The team in the NICU, including Prem Fort, M.D., provide the most advanced life support and monitoring technology for premature and critically ill infants. During NICU awareness month and Hispanic Heritage month, we’re taking the time out to get to know Fort, a Peruvian-American, and what drives his passion to help our tiniest patients. 

What does a neonatologist do at the hospital? 

There are two parts to my neonatology world. The days I’m involved in direct patient care with babies in our NICU, I come in the morning, receive information on patients from the overnight teams and then round with teams of resident doctors, nurse practitioners, and other staff as well as any families that are present, discussing medical issues, X-rays, lab results and plans of the day. I discuss babies’ care in more detail with families, answer medical questions and enjoy getting to know them a bit more, later in the afternoon. Additionally, I cover neonatology services at some of our affiliate hospitals, participating in clinical care.

On my “academic” days, I help educate trainees by giving lectures or assisting with complex deliveries. I am the co-chair of our research council and also participate in research opportunities and often present at national or international conferences. As part of my research and presentations across the world, I also discuss a term I help coin called, SALSA (surfactant administration through laryngeal or supraglottic airway). This is a new and minimally invasive method of giving surfactant, a liquid substance that helps premature babies breath, into the lungs without the need for the insertion of a breathing tube. This method is being implemented around the world and slowly changing the way premature infants receive this life-saving procedure. 

What made you choose neonatology? 

I joke that with my name, Prem, like PREMaturity, I was destined for it! But it was a combination of many things. For one, my sister was born premature and being that we are 12 years apart, I vividly remember her in an incubator, fighting for her life, and the doctors and nurses helping her feed and grow. I told myself as a child, I want to be just like them, to help babies survive. 

Who were your role models growing up? 

Throughout my life and career, I have had so many role models, but my earliest role models were my mother and father. My father, as a physician himself, used to expose me to medicine, whether he realized it or not. Seeing him talk medicine with such a passion, made me seek that same passion. On a few occasions, he would take me to see the clinic or hospital, where I thought he was a hero for being able to make people better with his skills. I wanted to do just that! My mother, as an educator, has been the person who always showed me the importance of sharing those skills with others.

Tell us more about your family. 

I have two wonderful children and a beautiful and loving wife, as well as a 4-year-old puppy. I truly enjoy spending time with my family, whether it be fishing, playing soccer, or watching a good Netflix show. 

This year’s Hispanic Heritage theme is: Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation. How has your Peruvian heritage made you stronger in life? 

One of the things that attracted me to this country when I came as a teenager with my family was the inclusivity and variety of cultures that exist within one nation. I would like to think that because of my Peruvian-American heritage, I have been able to understand two different cultures growing up in the United States. That in itself has allowed me to be more open to learn about other cultures from around the world. Professionally, Spanish is the second most used language in this country — but it is not enough to speak the language. When dealing with complex medical situations, it is important to understand the culture also. As a Latino, I can help bridge some of the language with the ethnic and culture context.  

What's something that most people might not know about you? 

I recently became a children's book author. Ever since I was young, I have had a dream of creating a children's book. While I was on my Instagram account, “TheNICUDoc,” teaching about the NICU, I met an author and parent of a NICU baby. We decided to write a book describing the respiratory problems in the NICU from a parent’s perspective and help explain the management, including medication and respiratory machines using a cartoon character, Doc Fort. I am so proud of this accomplishment and we are looking to turn this into a series of books, with adventures into the other systems and diagnoses.

Why do you like working at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?

The people. When I came to interview, everyone, from the front desk to the doctors were amazing. It is what makes this place so special. Every day I come to work, I find myself surrounded by those that really care for their patients. Even in stressful situations, I find that we have moments away from patients when we can laugh or just talk and this helps with stress relief. I can honestly say, I have many friends at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. 

It is also amazing that we have such a large, an incredible, high level, state-of-the-art hospital for the community to bring their children if needed. We have practically all the subspecialties and can perform nearly all the procedures and surgeries.

What's the one thing you want your patients to know? 

That the way I practice is as a team. And ultimately, parents are the most important members of the team, because it is your baby. One of the hardest things about the NICU is to think that you have no control. I want parents to know that that cannot be further from the truth. I want decisions to be shared. I want parents to know my plans and if they have other ideas, then I would like to hear them so we can come up with a plan that works for all, so that the babies get the best care possible, from a medical and an emotional standpoint.