I am a forensic pediatrician. People often ask how I do my job and what got me into this field in the first place. That is, if they even know what a forensic pediatrician is. According to Black's Law Dictionary, forensic medicine is "a branch of medicine that establishes or interprets evidence using scientific or technical facts." That might not clear it up, so a simpler description of my job is "a pediatrician who helps in the evaluation and management of the potentially abused child."
Every day in the US, three children die as a result of child abuse or neglect that we know of (Prevent Child Abuse). Unfortunately, there are millions of children who are abused or neglected every year, which means, there are patients for pediatricians like me across the US. Treating kids one at a time is a losing battle - we have to understand why people hurt children, we need to understand how doctors diagnose abuse and we need to know how we can stop children from being abused in the first place.
I completed my medical school and pediatric residency at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou as we call it). While in medical school, I met my mentor, Lori Frasier, MD, FAAP who introduced me to the field of forensic pediatrics. Since my first patient with her, I knew what I wanted to do. The child abuse community is small, but growing. With a field so relatively young, there is much that we still need to understand. That's why research training is so essential. Des Runyan, MD, DrPH, FAAP, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumed responsibility for my education during fellowship. Working with Dr. Runyan as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar I obtained an MPH and the research and clinical skills I would need to help move our field forward.
My clinical world is evaluating children who are suspected victims of sexual or physical abuse. This involves much more than seeing kids in clinic or the hospital. I also work closely with law enforcement, child protective services and prosecutors? offices. Additionally, I work with defense attorneys and testify in cases where the evidence isn't convincing regarding their client. My clinical responsibilities fuel my research passion though - learning more about what we know and don't know about abuse.
An important part of my job is as the Chair of the Indiana State Child Fatality Review Team. Prevention is the holy grail of child abuse and neglect and we as a society need to understand what we can do to prevent child deaths. By reviewing the child fatalities that are the result of potentially preventable causes we learn more about when, where, why and how children are dying. This information is turned around and presented to the community, to research-sponsoring agencies and to state law makers. We can learn from the past to make a safer future for our children.
I am also very active in the national AAP. Being active in the largest organization of physicians who care for children allows one to identify issues that affect the health and well-being of children and find kindred spirits to work with towards fixing those problems. Beginning in the Section on Residents, where I started on the Executive Committee and moved on to become the Chair, and now serving on the Nominating Committee of the Section on Child Abuse and Neglect and the Executive Committee of the Section on Young Physicians, I have actively worked at introducing medical students and residents to the AAP. Getting involved early in one's career builds excitement at the potential that can be realized by working together for a common cause.
Although my field of practice often frightens and depresses people, I love my job! There are so many opportunities to make a difference in a child's life and I have been fortunate enough to find an academic home that will allow me to make a contribution to this effort. To learn more about this field of medicine, visit Section of Child Abuse and Neglect.