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Treating Children Wakes up My Inner Child

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Name: Saba Fatima, MD

Specialty: Pediatrics

Education: Dow University of Health Sciences, Albert Einstein Healthcare Network

Areas of Expertise: Clinical research in hospital medicine, reading in children

Current Position: Resident Physician

1. Why did you choose pediatrics?

The willpower and relentless spirit of children in face of sheer adversity that I had seen in my country during a devastating flood, was a huge turning point in my life. I chose Pediatrics early in my journey because it brought out the energy in me. The youth and joviality associated with children instilled an infectious spirit in me which inspired me to work harder as each day passed. I felt that a child inside me woke up each time I treated children, and this helped me maintain a balance to my intense personality.

My personal statement for residency ended with this quote: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

2. What is the last journal article or piece of research that significantly changed how you practice?

I came across the Adverse Childhood experiences study, at the start of my pediatrics residency. This study compared the childhood experiences of 17,000 subjects to their chronic heath conditions later in life. Shockingly, two-thirds of the population had had an ACE, including sexual or physical abuse, and were therefore predisposed to have health impairments as grownups. It was a real eye opener for me as it helped me look beyond my glass walls, step back, and think about the emotional health of my vulnerable patient population, i.e. children and how it could affect their lives.

3. What are your research interests?

I am interested in clinical research in hospital medicine and currently working on a project aimed at predicting guidelines for CT scans in pediatric patients undergoing lumbar punctures for meningitis. My other research interests also include reading in children and the use of electronic books.

4. Outside of your daily practice, do you have any personal or professional projects that you’re passionate about?

I was born and raised in Pakistan. Growing up in a developing country, I was exposed to witnessing children living in extreme poverty. I also have seen the unfortunate disparity of children dying of malnutrition and food insecurity and being denied adequate health care on account of being poor. Being in this part of the world, I have felt a huge information gap. Fortunately, we are lucky to have so many resources here, we don’t realize what being in a resource-limited country feels like. I am working on a project where I want to use the medium of writing and pictures to tell these stories to the world.

5. What is a common misconception that other clinicians have about pediatrics?

That it is easy and not hardcore! In my opinion, there is nothing easy about treating children, especially when can’t be good historians for themselves. It takes a lot of clinical acumen and instinct!

6. Who are your mentors?

My parents. They are not physicians, but they have taught me what humanity truly means. As a child, I observed their interactions with other people in great detail and how they always helped the underprivileged in tiny ways. I learned compassion from my mother and ambition from my father, both qualities ignited my passion to become a physician.

7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It was by my sister: If you don’t think you are good, maybe even best at what you do, no one will ever take you seriously. Life is all about how you present yourself! Survival of the fittest!

8. What has been your most gratifying moment of being a clinician?

The fear you face when your child is sick is described as one of the worst fears in the world. I know for a fact that my parents still panic when I have a cold. As a pediatrician, when parents bring in their child or make a house call, I often sense extreme fear and worry in their voices and faces. To be the person who can maybe fix their problems or allay their fears, and sense the relief wash over them after is one of the most gratifying parts of this profession. Their trust in you is everything!

9. What is the hardest thing about treating children? What is the most rewarding?

Their inability to verbalize the exact problem. An adult would just walk into your office and say he has abdominal pain or chest pain or palpitations. With a child, you have to rely on what parents think may be wrong with their child. Sometimes you may subject kids to unnecessary workup just because you can’t put your finger to exactly what is wrong.

The most rewarding part for me is when I can make a connection with a child on a personal level. Many children are extremely scared and shy walking into the pediatrician’s office. If they walk out smiling or humming, I cherish that memory throughout my day.

10. How do you unwind after a challenging day?

I talk to my husband about my day. He is a clinician as well, so he understands the medical lingo without getting bored. I consider that a huge blessing.

11. How do you motivate patients to do what’s best for their health?

With parents it’s difficult. You don’t want to look down upon how they are raising their child, but you still want to communicate the message that something else might be better. I usually ask their opinion and put them in a position of power to change their lives. Can they identify a problem in their current lifestyle? What do they think is the ideal way to make it better? It also helps when you talk about little steps at one time rather than dramatic changes.

12. What is the biggest challenge or obstacle in pediatrics?

That you cannot fix so many things in the world which affect children very easily. Like gun violence, refusal to vaccinate, and physical or sexual abuse. When you see children being disabled by non-accidental trauma, being shot in a place which should be their safe haven, or suffering from meningitis because they are unvaccinated, you feel extremely helpless. We need more people to advocate for children.

13. What are your favorite Doximity features and how have they helped your productivity (Dialer, DocNews, Career Navigator, e-Fax, etc.)?

DocNews! They choose some amazing and relevant articles that I can skim through during any five minutes of peace that I get in a busy day. In a resident’s life, that is a blessing.

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