Injuries—including those from car accidents, falls, and drowning—are the leading cause of death and disability of children. Pediatricians can partner with parents to enlist prevention strategies to avoid these tragedies.
Other rapidly increasing health problems, such as obesity, can also be prevented in childhood, reducing the risk of diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions in adulthood.
Mary E. Aitken, MD, wants to start working with children today to improve the health of adults tomorrow. In October 2019, she became the new Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Physician-in-Chief at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
“Prevention is the core of pediatrics— whether in the form of a vaccine,
a car seat, or a healthy diet—and getting vital information
to parents both in the clinic and in the community is the key to having healthy children,” Aitken says.
Although her research focuses on childhood injury prevention, her new role at UTHealth requires a broader vision. “I want to further grow the department to meet the evolving and complex needs of our patients,” Aitken says. “These include not only acute and chronic medical conditions, but also childhood nutrition, safety, education, and environment.”
Aitken says the Dan L Duncan Distinguished University Chair in Pediatrics was a key factor in her decision to come to UTHealth. “The generosity of the Duncan Family, along with the collaboration between McGovern Medical School and its hospital partners, eloquently demonstrated a commitment to the success of the Department of Pediatrics,” she says. “The chair is a wonderful tool that can be used to build services for children.”
During the next couple of years, Aitken and her team will evaluate their success by measuring overall growth of the department and services. This assessment will include ongoing attention to quality and safety improvements along with new screening measures for social determinants of health such as food insecurity or housing instability. In the long-term, she anticipates using this information to develop specific programs and partnerships to further respond to the needs of pediatric patients.
“We know that adverse events and stressors in early life
dramatically shape health not only in childhood but
throughout adulthood. Identifying and addressing both the physical and behavioral health needs of children is necessary, coupled with the support and services parents need,” she says.
Because in the end, a long and healthy life is everybody’s goal.