a dialogue with...
SARAH WINTERS, M.D.
GENERAL PEDIATRICS RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP:
CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA
RESIDENCY: CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA, PEDIATRICS
TEMPLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, CLASS OF 2002
POSTBAC CLASS OF 1997
B.A. AMERICAN HISTORY
Sarah is a pediatrician in a primary-care clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where she also trains pediatric residents. Sarah completed her residency and a two-year clinical epidemiology fellowship at CHOP, where she conducted research focused on adolescent health and access to primary care. Sarah earned her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine, where she led the student chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. During the glide year between completion of the postbac program and enrolling in medical school, she was a clinical research assistant in the ob-gyn department at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah and her husband, emergency physician Brendan Carr, who is also a Bryn Mawr postbac alum, and their children live in the Philadelphia area.
Bryn Mawr: Tell us about your research fellowship at CHOP.
Sarah: After my residency, I did a two-year general pediatrics fellowship at CHOP, which focuses on clinical epidemiology. In my research, I examined the impact of Philadelphia’s sexually transmitted disease (STD) education program and school-based sex education on STD rates among adolescents. I also studied Medicaid families’ access to pediatric primary-care services and their use of hospital emergency rooms use for non-urgent care. I am interested in public health and public policy, so it was important for me to gain epidemiological research skills and experience.
Bryn Mawr: What is it like to practice medicine?
Sarah: It’s great! I am an attending physician in the same clinic at CHOP where I was a resident from 2002 to 2005. So I am treating patients I first saw when they were infants or toddlers, who are now starting kindergarten or first grade. I’m also treating their brothers and sisters. I love my families, and I have developed good relationships with them. This is the reason I went into medicine.
Bryn Mawr: What are some of the challenges?
Sarah: As a physician, you never want to make a mistake, and you never want to miss something. When it comes to children’s health, in particular, you are taking on an enormous responsibility. And while CHOP provides good support for its physicians, it’s hard when an insurance company says you can’t give your kids certain medicines, or you have to jump through hoops to do what’s best for kids.
We see a large Medicaid population in the clinic, so we see kids coming in and out of insurance eligibility, and that can impact the continuity of their care. For kids who are healthy, that may or may not be a major problem. For other kids, especially those who have behavioral health issues, it is a real problem. And that’s frustrating when we live in a society that should be able to help kids with those kinds of problems.
Bryn Mawr: So you are seeing firsthand the impact of the health-care access issues you studied as a research fellow?
Bryn Mawr: What experiences that have best prepared you for medical practice?
Sarah: I have always been a service-oriented person, so while I really love the science of medicine, I very clearly went into medicine to care for patients. Even when I was studying American history as an undergraduate, I gravitated toward social history, women’s history, and civil rights history. I have always been interested in learning how society works, and trying to fix it at some level. Today, I work at an inner-city pediatric clinic with a large at-risk population. Medical training, especially in pediatrics, incorporates advocacy as a component. You couldn’t do what I do if you didn’t see that as part of your job. And while that may be more pronounced where I work, I think that is true of all pediatricians.
Bryn Mawr: How did your non-science, non-premed undergraduate background help make you the kind of doctor you are?
Sarah: In two ways First, it brings a broader perspective to medicine. Second, when I came to Bryn Mawr at age 23 to study science and prepare for medical school, I had decided what I really wanted to do, so I was more focused and able to embrace it than I would have been able to had I done it as an undergrad.
Bryn Mawr: Did you ever feel at a disadvantage because of your non-science undergraduate background?
Sarah: No. Bryn Mawr’s well-established postbac program has pioneered in making it a legitimate pathway to medical school. Medical schools and residency programs see merit in people who really love science and want to be physicians, and who have balanced that with a different experience. Their perception of postbacs has changed for the better, and I benefited from that.
Bryn Mawr: What advice would you give to others considering the same path to medical school?
Sarah: If you feel that you have a perspective on medicine and healing that you think should be heard and valued, don’t be scared off by the premed science and math. You have to take a realistic look at your life and what you want from it, and at your capabilities. You need to be committed to get through it. But it is certainly possible. The Bryn Mawr postbac program was a nurturing environment for me to study the sciences. With small classes taught by accessible professors and individualized support, Bryn Mawr was the perfect place for me to take that on.
Bryn Mawr: Is it still harder for women than for men to balance medical training and a medical career with family responsibilities?
Sarah: I think family responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women. Pediatrics is somewhat more “forgiving” of family priorities because it is a female-dominated field.
I have made certain choices because my husband and I have two young kids, and my priorities are different than they were before. My husband, emergency physician Brendan Carr, is a loving husband and dad, and we have both made sacrifices for our family. And there is no “perfect” timing to have children, but I think that is true in most careers. You have to decide what your priorities are and go with them. And if you feel passionate about a medical career, and feel that it is what would be most fulfilling, it is almost an obligation to yourself to pursue it.
I love what I do.