Paths to Pediatrics--Meredith Hickson, MD

Paths to Pediatrics--Meredith Hickson, MD

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Dr. Hickson is currently a CHOP-Pincus Global Health Fellow in Botswana, where she is engaged in both inpatient care of children and neonates at Botswana’s national referral hospital and implementation research on a new Pediatric Early Warning System to improve outcomes for hospitalized children. Her role also includes mentorship and education of medical students and residents at the University of Botswana. Dr. Hickson’s global focus is on strengthening tertiary care—referral systems, inpatient care, and escalation of care—for children in low-resource settings.

What was your path to pediatrics?

After college, I joined the Peace Corps where I worked on various public health projects, many of them centered around children's health, nutrition and education. Then, between the Peace Corps and medical school, I interned with a policy research center (Children's Health Watch at Boston University) that studies how public programs like food stamps, welfare and housing vouchers impact children's health across the US. I came to understand that because children are the most vulnerable members of our society, we can measure the health of our society by looking at how children are treated and how they're faring. As a result, I started to see children as the most important patient population physicians treat and was attracted to the huge impact I could have by becoming a pediatrician. Then, during medical school, the longer I worked with kids the more I appreciated how wonderful and unique it was to spend my day with (smaller) people who approach the world with so much enthusiasm, openness and imagination.

When did you decide to go into pediatrics?

 Even before I started medical school I had the sense I probably wanted to be a pediatrician and that only solidified during my time as a medical student. 

Has it been what you expected?

 Yes and no. It has certainly been as great as I anticipated it would be. I have been able to work on various social issues through the lense of pediatric medicine, which is wonderful, and I enjoy how unpredictable my job is because kids introduce the best kind of chaos into every setting. One of the bigger adjustments for me, however, was coming to terms with the reality that pediatricians are really caring for an entire family. The needs and concerns of parents, and sometimes siblings as well, are central to what we do.

What should a young person considering pediatrics as a career know?

I think there is no more rewarding career in medicine than becoming a pediatrician. Children are incredibly resilient in every sense; even the absolutely sickest kids I treat often get up and walk out of the hospital in more or less the same condition they were in before they became ill or injured. Pediatrics--maybe even more than most branches of adult medicine--is a team sport. We work hand-in-hand with teachers, social workers, parents, coaches and many others to keep kids healthy. Being a pediatrician can also be a very challenging job at times. No matter how hard we try, we do lose patients, and supporting a family through the loss of a child is quite different from supporting families through the loss of an elderly relative. Taking care of such a vulnerable population also means having to face issues like child abuse and high rates of poverty among kids in the US.

What are your plans for the future?

 I would like to continue mixing clinical practice in a hospital setting with research on how we can prevent deaths among children living in countries where healthcare resources are more limited.  

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