Nicole Randazzo-Ahearn, MD, is the medical director of the Newborn Nursery at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. For her, the theme that arises from women physicians in history is to contributing to the care of children – a theme that Randazzo-Ahearn proudly carries into her work with patients and families at the start of life.
Why is Women’s History Month important to you?
I think this is a unique time in history for women to move forward in all aspects of society and become leaders in their fields. It is very important to understand history to learn from it and progress from it. To move forward, we must learn what our predecessors did that both worked and did not work well in the past. Recent reports have noted that patients cared for by female physicians have better outcomes and yet we are still paid less and hold fewer leadership roles. Even in pediatrics, a female-dominated field, many leadership positions are still held by men. We need to continue to celebrate our successes and remind the world of them as we move forward in our leadership roles.
What do you like most about your job?
Caring for babies is wonderful, but I love that I get to do it in the setting of one of the most exciting, but anxiety-provoking times in the life of a family.
How can we encourage more women and girls to enter the sciences?
By moving away from stereotyping at a young age and treating young boys and girls as equals from a young age.
What contributions have women made in the field of medicine that have influenced your role or specialty?
What is interesting is that I never thought of that growing up, but as I went through medical school and further training, I became more aware of some of the incredible women in medical history. Of course Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell is known to be the first woman to graduate from an American medical school in 1849, but she also opened up The New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Virginia Apgar, MD, developed the APGAR score (a measure of a newborn’s physical condition) in 1953. We still rely on this score for information regarding how newborns are doing after birth. Audrey Evans, MD, is famous for the Evans Staging System for childhood cancers. The theme you see is that women physician in history contributed greatly to the care of children, and here I am, a pediatrician proud of this.
Have you encountered any obstacles on your journey as a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
By the time I was in medical school, I am happy to say almost 50 percent of my graduating class was female. I did not feel that I was disadvantaged, thankfully, but there were times in medical school when there were uncomfortable moments with certain male attending doctors. Going into a female predominant field, like pediatrics, does somewhat shield me from the sexism that may exist in other specialties.
What is one piece of advice you would give a woman entering the field of medicine and/or healthcare?
Be confident in your abilities and negotiate to your worth. Make sure you remember to say “No” when you need to.
Has there been an influential woman in your life who supported or inspired you on your journey into health care/medicine?
I am one of three girls and my dad has always lauded me as bright and able. I am the first female in my family in medicine and the first doctor in my family on my dad's side. My mom and dad divorced when I was in college and I think it confirmed to me the importance of being able to stand alone as a female.
What advice do you have for women to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Every person, male and female, has priorities. It is important to understand what yours are and follow through. We all need to work hard at different points in our lives, but I don't know many people who in their older age say "I wish I worked more." Money is necessary and important to some degree, but never feel guilty for taking time for self-care and/or family time. Enjoy your life outside of work and your will enjoy your time at work more.
Describe your journey into health care.
I had always known I wanted to be a physician since I was 5 years old. I was going to care for my grandparents as they grew old. That journey clearly changed since I became a pediatrician, but my path never wavered and I went straight through to medical school. I was in a special program at Boston College/Downstate Medical School where I could get a bachelor of arts instead of a bachelor of science to make more well-rounded physicians. My bachelor of arts is in history and classics, but I always knew those degrees were my version of fun. I always wanted to care for sick people. It wasn't until my clinical years that I knew I was meant for pediatrics.
What is special about MassGeneral Hospital for Children?
MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a small world within a big, fabulous, world-class hospital. When I was looking for a place to spend my career, I wanted to be at an academic center of excellence where I could take great hands-on care of patients. Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at MGHfC is medium-sized as childhood cancer centers go, and I believe it is the optimal size and model for providing continuity and family-centered care for our young patients.
An advantage of being a hospital-within-a-hospital is that we can interact directly with providers who care for adult patients and have access to all the resources and innovation that Massachusetts General Hospital provides. For better or worse, most new drugs and treatments are tested and developed first in adult patients. This is especially true for fields that treat relatively rare diseases, which is most pediatric hematologic and oncologic diseases. The ability to collaborate on-site with adult providers benefits both sides of the aisle. For some diseases that are more common in children, adult patients' outcomes are improved when oncologists follow treatment plans that were originally developed for children through pediatric cooperative clinical research.