Rye Brook pediatrician Dr. Peter Acker displays his first book, Blood Brain Barrier.Danny Gessner|Westmore News
Rye Brook pediatrician Dr. Peter Acker displays his first book, Blood Brain Barrier.

Danny Gessner|Westmore News

It's not too often that medical experts train themselves in a new discipline after 25 years, but local pediatrician Dr. Peter Acker has broken through by writing a suspenseful novel that combines the medical world with a literary flair. Dr. Acker has worked with Pediatric Associates in Rye Brook for nearly 28 years, but in the fall of 2014 he earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College.

Acker describes his writing as partially inspired by his father's own attempts at writing, but he draws heavily from early creative nonfiction he composed as a columnist and later editor of the medical periodical Westchester Physician. This writing combined public health and his own experiences in medicine, drawing from personal stories and expanding them into larger discussion points on issues such as vaccinations and public smoking bans. Acker said this experience allowed him to explore other forms of writing, starting with essays and working into larger scope such as the memoir form and book reviews.

"I have submitted to literary journals, but the sheer volume limited the responses I got back," Acker said.

Dr. Acker first began his pursuit of his master's degree after attending the June Writers Week event at Manhattanville. The program, currently preparing for its 32nd annual iteration, inspired the pediatrician to apply to the MFA in Creative Writing program over a slow and steady approach.

"I took night courses, one per semester, to work with my schedule," Acker related. "It provided me with discipline to sit down and write, along with discovering new books and authors."

After six years with the program, Dr. Acker earned his MFA, another accolade to distinguish his career apart from previous degrees earned at Oberlin College in Ohio and Sackler School of Medicine in Israel.

Dr. Acker's first novel, Blood Brain Barrier, is a fast-paced medical thriller that lures the reader in with strong, relatable characters who exist in the melting pot of a bustling Manhattan hospital. The narrative follows a second year pediatric resident, Dr. Eric Egan, through his nerve-wracking late shifts. An early scene brings quick tension to the novel when Egan aggressively diagnoses spinal meningitis in an infant and is able to treat the baby early enough to avoid catastrophe. Dr. Acker said this was one of the earliest scenes in the book he wrote, basing it on his own personal experience when he was a young doctor. He accredited his own diagnosis from "reading the mother's face" and "sensing that something wasn't right" despite the rarity of such a deadly disease in an infant. A borderline fever that otherwise wouldn't raise suspicion turned into a stroke of genius when lab results were able to confirm the disease.

To tap into a younger character, Acker said he "hearkened back to his residency, the relentless pace and being hassled by authority," but relied mostly on a creative process to craft complex characters.

"At the Writer's Week I workshopped a few drafts to create a new ending," Acker explained. "I felt that the original resolution was too obvious" in the novel. The workshops clearly paid off as the plot twists keep the reader guessing until the final chapter.