September 24, 2020

State of Pediatrics address reviews challenges, resiliency

Steven Webber, MBChP, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, recently delivered his annual state of the department address to an ever-growing number of faculty, staff and trainees.


by Christina Echegaray

Steven Webber, MBChP, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, recently delivered his annual state of the department address to an ever-growing number of faculty, staff and trainees.

While many of the mission areas and topics remain the same — advocacy and service, clinical care, discovery and education — the circumstances created by COVID-19 over the past six months made the presentation anything but typical.

To ensure social distancing, Webber delivered the first-ever virtual state of the department to several hundred attendees via Zoom, acknowledging the difficulties and challenges of 2020 while highlighting the resiliency of the people as the heart of the department.

As with other meetings, this year’s State of the Department of Pediatrics address was a virtual event.

“It hard to think of a more stressful year in all of our lifetimes, but through these challenging times, I think it has brought out the best in people and certainly in our staff and faculty. I think the department’s achievements — your achievements — are therefore all the more notable given the challenging times we have all been living through,” said Webber, Pediatrician-in-Chief of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and James C. Overall Professor.

During the address, he reviewed the past fiscal year, celebrated the department’s major achievements, promotions and awards and discussed what lies ahead.

Despite facing the worst pandemic in more than a hundred years during the final quarter of the fiscal year, the department made significant gains in many areas.

With more than 800 people — faculty and staff — in the department, the clinics are seeing patients at more locations than ever, now with 22 clinical locations across Tennessee. The fiscal year also saw the new Murfreesboro clinic location come online with the opening of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt Surgery and Clinics.

“The fall and winter seasons prior to outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 were extremely busy in several domains, and we achieved or surpassed 2018 activity despite four months of severe disruption. We only finished the year slightly behind fiscal year 2019 in most clinical areas,” Webber said.

Amid COVID-19 and with the scaling back of in-person services in the early spring, the department successfully ramped up telemedicine, which at one point accounted for more than 60% of all patient clinical visits — more than a 10-fold increase for telemedicine — Webber noted, giving kudos to all involved.

“(The telemedicine visits) enabled us to maintain contact with patients and provide access to care when it otherwise would not have been possible,” he said.

In research, the department again set a new record in total research grants and contract awards, with about $87 million from all federal and non-federal sources. The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research ranked the department sixth on its annual list of National Institutes of Health grant funding for departments of pediatrics within schools of medicine.

“COVID slowed clinical research not related to SARS-CoV-2, but nevertheless the department managed to increase awards, grants and contracts expenditures to the highest in the history of the department and also to increase numbers of clinical research participants,” Webber said.

He also highlighted the tremendous research efforts around COVID-19, with the department boasting some of the world’s leaders in this area, noting that “their work is making an impact and shining a bright light on the department and on the Medical Center.”

In education and training, the increasing interest from residents and postdoctoral fellows to train in pediatrics at Vanderbilt continues to expand to many areas across the country, with more than 1,250 applicants to the program. Seeing a slight increase of trainees, the department now has 116 residents and 90 postdoctoral fellows.

Looking ahead, Webber touched on several new clinic locations, with a new pediatric site opening soon in Jackson, Tennessee, and clinics within the new Hendersonville VUMC location.

The department will also have an increased focus on diversity and inclusion in parallel with VUMC, which will include anti-racism training, unconscious bias training and a newly appointed committee on diversity and inclusion.