Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Celebrates Women’s History Month: Setting Priorities

This is the second part of a monthlong series in honor of Women’s History Month.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we want to celebrate some of the outstanding women at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health who make such a difference for our patients—and the community at large. In this Q&A, each of these women shares the story of how she came to her profession, how it’s changed, challenges she faced along the way, and some of the issues she’s passionate about.

Abanti Chaudhuri, MD, is a specialist in kidney disease in children. Meghan Imrie, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, specializes in treating children with scoliosis, trauma injuries, and cerebral palsy; she is one of a handful of female surgeons in the country specializing in spine surgery. Lisa Grisim, RN, MSN, vice president and associate chief information officer at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, is a recognized leader nationally in health care information technology.

How did you choose this field, and what are some of the key moments, decisions, or events that helped shape your career and enable you to reach your position today?

Abanti Chaudhuri: I am curious by nature and had an interest in science from a very young age. That, combined with my affection for children, led to my chosen specialty of pediatrics. Working with children is often challenging and requires patience, but in return I have always been fascinated by their great capacity for love and their zest for life. I grew up in India, received medical training in England and then in the U.S., and am fortunate to have had lived and worked in various parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to taste pediatric medicine as it is practiced in underdeveloped, developing, and developed countries. These are experiences that I consider unique and invaluable, making me a well-rounded physician.

As I progressed on my career path, I found that nephrology offered me everything I valued in patient care. It gave me the opportunity to care for children with a wide range of disorders. Nephrology exemplified the precision of medicine. I value the meaningful and long-lasting relationships, and the bond of responsibility and trust with my patients and their families as I see them progress from chronic kidney disease to dialysis and transplant while they transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.

Meghan Imrie: My father is an orthopedic surgeon, and so was my grandfather, so I grew up seeing how fulfilled my dad was in his career. When I went to medical school, I kept an open mind but was really drawn to the hands-on nature of surgery. It taps into the same part of my brain as gymnastics, which I enjoyed doing for 15 years—always perfecting my craft. Musculoskeletal anatomy was my favorite, so I chose ortho and have never looked back. In residency, I loved working with kids, and pediatric orthopedics allows you to do all kinds of procedures throughout the body in a very rewarding patient population. I chose to do a pediatric fellowship in orthopedics and have never regretted it for a single day.

Lisa Grisim: Before graduating from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life nor what I wanted to major in. My mother was a nurse, working at a school for neurologically handicapped children, and she encouraged me to consider nursing. Convinced that nursing would give me a profession with flexibility and options, I decide to pursue that as my major, and after graduation I began my career journey at Stanford Health Care as a staff nurse in 1985. 

Fast-forward to 1996, when I was asked if I wanted to participate in a project called Physician Order Entry, which ended up being the first Electronic Health Record (EHR) for Stanford Medicine, I said yes. For the first year, I worked half-time in Information Technology (IT) as a subject matter expert and half-time in a nursing management role. Feeling like I had two full-time jobs during that year, I made the decision to leave nursing and go full time into IT.

What changes have you seen in your field over the years?

Chaudhuri: Pediatric nephrology is one of the fastest-evolving fields in medicine. Dialysis and transplantation now allow a child with chronic kidney disease to survive. During my career in pediatric nephrology, I have seen more evidence-based approaches in management of congenital abnormalities of the kidney, nephrotic syndrome, urinary tract infections, hypertension, and ways to delay progression of chronic kidney disease to end-stage kidney disease. Clinical and drug trials in various fields of pediatric nephrology are leading to more-effective treatments. More genes are being discovered that help physicians understand the natural course of antenatal diagnoses and other kidney diseases. Today, children can be born with no kidneys, a condition previously known to be incompatible with life. Now they can survive on dialysis, with a goal of future transplantation.

Imrie: Thankfully, more women and underrepresented women are coming to ortho, but at a frustratingly slow pace. I’ve also seen a lot more subspecialization, especially in academics, which is good and bad. I chose pediatrics because of its general nature, and that is slowly going away in the academic realm. I’ve also seen a trend toward better work-life balance in the field of orthopedics, which I think makes it more accessible.

Grisim: When I first went into health care IT in the late 1990s, almost everything was manual, on paper. The role of IT was very much a technical role. Over the past few decades, paper medical records have been replaced with EHRs automating key clinical processes. This industry-wide digital transformation has greatly enhanced care delivery and patient safety by enabling access to a patient’s health information when and where it is needed. As clinicians have become more reliant on technology to do their day-to-day work, providing highly reliable systems has become an essential function of IT. And as further advancements have been made in technology solutions, healthcare IT leaders need to not only implement and support technology, but also be innovators and changemakers in care delivery across their organization and across the healthcare industry. 

What advice do you have for women in your field who are at the early stage of their career?

Chaudhuri: Medicine is a competitive field with a lot of demand for your time. As a woman and a mother of two children, I appreciate how challenging it can be to balance the desire to excel as a clinician with being a mother who plays an active role in raising your own children. It gets especially tough in your early career when the training involves long hours, and the children are younger. There is no perfect solution to this problem; however, it is possible to obtain a work-life balance that fulfills you in roles both as a physician and as a mother. You must set down your own priorities, make your own decisions, based on what is important to you, and you can have everything that matters to you.

Imrie: One thing I learned as I started my family is about how little control you actually have. I spent my 20s thinking that it was so easy to get pregnant and being vigilant about making sure it didn’t happen. But when I got to my 30s, it turns out it can be hard to get pregnant, stay pregnant, not deliver early, and all kinds of things, and that there is really no “perfect” time in medicine to start a family. So, in my opinion, family planning should be based on your personal life and relationship with your significant other and not when it will best “fit” into your training, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll have the control to fit it into the box you’ve arbitrarily created.

Grisim: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and say yes to opportunities that may come your way. You do not need to know it all or to have had previous experience in an area to be successful at tackling it. Jump in, be transparent and open about what you know and don’t know, and seek out mentors who will help support you along the way. Ask lots of questions, and commit to being a lifelong learner who challenges themself to continual growth and development. Seek out what you are passionate about and go for it. And if that day comes that you are no longer finding joy in your work, have the courage to make a change.

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