January 9, 2009

Pediatrics Department honors past leaders

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Pediatrics Department honors past leaders

The Department of Pediatrics is renaming two divisions and three medical services in honor of prominent leaders of the past.

The Division of Pediatric Cardiology and the Division of Neonatology will be named for their founders Thomas Graham, M.D., and Mildred Stahlman, M.D., respectively. The three medical services at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt will likewise be named for David Karzon, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics from 1968 until 1986; Amos Christie, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics from 1943 until 1968; and Tom Hazinski, M.D., chair of Pediatric Pulmonology from 1989 until his death in 2006.

A few months ago, the Brent Polk Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition became the first division named for a leader in the Department of Pediatrics.

Jonathan Gitlin, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics, said it is important to recognize leadership on a historic scale at Children's Hospital

“You cannot know where you are going if you don't know where you have been. We stand on the shoulders of these great people,” Gitlin said.

Stahlman's history includes the development of the first Division of Neonatology at Vanderbilt in 1961.

She opened the nation's first neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) the following year after proving that very small premature babies could survive with the use of a ventilator and specially designed life support.

Today, Stahlman says that, while her clinical area of expertise — developing a support system to allow babies to survive prematurity — is important, the bigger questions about preventing prematurity in the first place remain largely unanswered.

“Right now we can teach how to take care of a two-pound baby and we can teach that very well, but the most important quality a student can have is curiosity. I tell students not to ask me to answer their questions. I say get on your knees and ask God, 'Please tell me what is the question?'” Stahlman said. “I hope the students will not stop at learning Neonatology; I hope they will learn whatever they need to learn to make change.”

For this, Stahlman said future neonatologists will need to look at everything from social and economic issues to racial differences, from teen pregnancy to state and federal legislation.

Graham, similarly, has experienced a remarkable career in pediatric cardiology; he has witnessed the development of the profession itself. He began the first Division of Pediatric Cardiology under Karzon in 1971.

“It was great to start something from scratch and build it the way I wanted to,” Graham said. “But the future of pediatric cardiology will benefit from a greater emphasis on clinical research and translational research, in which basic research findings are translated to the bedside and beyond to the future health of children and adults.”

Graham said he is encouraged by the leadership of Scott Baldwin, M.D., to whom he handed the reins of the division in 2004. Now he hopes the younger physicians will defy current societal norms of frequently evolving interests and show the level of tenacity and dedication he believes is crucial to his craft.

“Sometimes I think young people switch their interests too frequently. I think it is important to find an area of expertise and stick to it, no matter what other people think or say. If you believe it is important, you will be more effective in furthering that area,” Graham said.

The Mildred Stahlman Division of Neonatology, the Thomas Graham Division of Pediatric Cardiology and the David Karzon, Amos Christie Jr. and Thomas Hazinski medical services will each be recognized in coming events within the Department of Pediatrics.