CHOC Children’s leaders observe International Women’s Day

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we turned to CHOC Children’s female physicians and nursing leaders for insight and words of encouragement to other women pursuing healthcare careers.

Melanie Patterson, vice president, patient care services, and chief nursing officerWhen beginning your career in medicine, don’t focus on one trophy. The fields of medicine and nursing have so many opportunities within them; be courageous and try new things. The most important aspect of leadership and of career success is to be kind. Remember to form your own opinion — go into every relationship with your eyes open and stop looking through others’ eyes; they don’t always have 20/20 vision.

Dr. Mary Zupanc, pediatric neurologist and epileptologist & co-medical director of the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute

When I went to medical school, women were not encouraged, and it was hard. There were a lot of things that happened that made it very difficult, but medicine is truly one of the most gratifying professions you will ever have. Every patient is different. I believe that if you really and truly listen, a patient and their family will give you the diagnosis you’re searching for. Everyone’s story is so fascinating, and that makes our work like being a detective. Sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes searching for answers. Then once you do find an answer, you need to work with the family to make sure the treatment works for their lifestyle, culture and religion. That makes the work challenging, fun and meaningful.

The best piece of advice that I’ve ever received is to never apologize for excellence. Anyone would want their doctor to strive for excellence – and that goes for any profession.

Amy Waunch, nurse practitioner and trauma program managerNever underestimate your capabilities. Do not shy away from opportunities and always take on new challenges. Believe in yourself but don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may not have all of the answers all of the time, but you do have the ability to learn and grow.

Spot growth opportunities when they present themselves because they are the key learning opportunities. You will know because they make you uncomfortable and your initial impulse will be that you are not ready.

Dr. Azam Eghbal, medical director, radiologySince I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a doctor and becoming one has been the best decision of my life. As a female immigrant, I was told that I could never get to medical school, which, of course, motivated and challenged me even more to do so. The best advice I’ve gotten is don’t be discouraged about all your falls and obstacles. Think how you can succeed to get where you want to be.

Dr. Amber Leis, pediatric plastic surgeonMy advice for women pursuing a career in medicine is to trust yourself! Early on in your career, it’s easy to be overcome by feeling like you are not up to the task ahead of you. Your unique qualities will become your greatest strengths, so just keep chasing your passion.

I have great faith that if I stay true to my core principles, the right path will open in front of me. I try not to set specific goals for the future and instead I give my best to where I am. It keeps me focused on what I am doing now, and not distracted by trying to maneuver into some future place.

The best piece of career advice I’ve ever gotten has been, “You get to choose what kind of person you will be.”

Dr. Jasjit Singh, medical director, infection prevention & controlMy advice for women pursuing a career in medicine is to follow your passion! There are few other careers that offer the personal satisfaction and the intellectual rigor that medicine does. Find a good mentor early in your career. Later, make sure your practice partners have abilities that you respect, and the talent to make your shared time together meaningful.

I learned early on that delegation and time management are important, particularly if you want to balance a medical career and family. You can’t always do it all, and prioritization is tantamount to success in all the different spheres of your life.

One of the best pieces of advice that I got was from a mentor during fellowship, who told me, “It’s not enough to just be a good clinician.” He showed me the importance of asking good research questions and pursuing new knowledge. He also encouraged my love of teaching upcoming generations of pediatricians!

Dr. Katherine Williamson, pediatricianI love being a pediatrician. I help take care of kids every day and partner with their parents to help keep them healthy. To me, being successful is loving what you do, because then working hard and being motivated to do well doesn’t feel like work – it’s fulfilling a passion.

When asked to give advice, I always say these three things: be yourself, don’t rush, and follow your heart every step of the way. Be yourself, always. No matter how busy or loud life gets, never lose sight of you who you are and what you want to do.  Don’t be in a rush. Enjoy the journey because that is where you learn who you truly are. Lastly, follow your heart in every decision you make. When I look back on what got me to where I am in my career, I realize that it was not one or two big decisions that were the deciding factor, but instead it was a million little decisions along the way. And with each of those decisions I followed my heart and my passion.

In the Spotlight: Amber Leis, M.D.

Since joining CHOC’s plastic surgery divison two years ago, Dr. Amber Leis and an expert multidisciplinary team at CHOC have developed a one-of-a-kind brachial plexus surgery program for children in the region and beyond. She is also working with her team to continue to expand services for children with facial paralysis, cerebral palsy and complex wounds.

A board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Leis treats everything from brachial plexus birth palsy, trigger thumb, syndactyly, and thumb hypoplasia, to ganglion cysts.

“I love the challenge of these cases, especially pediatric congenital hand anomalies, and I cherish the long-term relationship I build with patients,” she says.

Additionally, Dr. Leis is working on several research projects tied to brachial plexus reconstruction.

“One of these projects aims to gain consensus from experts around the globe regarding the management of specific nerve injury patterns. I spent some time in Toronto and Taipei this past year as part of this project. I am also working closely with our therapists to understand the way different rehabilitation techniques improve our outcomes,” she explains.

Dr. Leis’s interest in surgery dates back to her college years. “When I was in college I went to work in a hospital in Zimbabwe for four months to do research. While there, I ended up assisting in surgery. It changed my life, and I have been passionately pursuing surgery ever since.  My parents were both artists, and I think surgery brought my life into harmony: being from an artistic home, and being a good scientist,” she says.

Dr. Leis attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in plastic surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and a fellowship in orthopedic hand surgery at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Today, Dr. Leis’s philosophy for caring for her patients is compassionate and straightforward. She puts the emotional well-being of her patients first. Her highest priority is that they feel cared for and healed, she explains.

“My patients have such a deep strength to them. They allow me into their lives and let me be part of their healing journey. They have taught me about compassion, love, and the capacity to overcome,” she says.

Dr. Leis is a member of the American Association for Hand Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, among other professional organizations. She has presented at many conferences throughout the country and published in various publications, such as the Annals of Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

When she is not taking care of patients at CHOC or UC Irvine Medical Center, Dr. Leis loves spending time with her husband, a filmmaker. Together, they hike, travel and dabble in photography. She also enjoys running, drawing and baking.

Learn more about plastic surgery services at CHOC.

CHOC Experts Provide High Level of Care for Brachial Plexus Surgery

CHOC Children’s offers the highest level of care for children requiring brachial plexus surgery.

Brachial plexus surgery is a complex procedure that repairs damage to the bundle of connected nerves in the neck region. Damage to these nerves is often caused by birth complications, contact sport collisions and automobile accidents. A severe brachial plexus injury can cause a patient to lose function and sensation in their arm, impairing their ability to perform everyday tasks.

Surgical procedures such as nerve grafts and transfers can restore this function and sensation and help the patient regain their lost quality of life.

“While many patients will regain movement with therapy alone, a small percentage will require nerve surgery,” says Dr. Joffre Olaya, pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC. “Patients may even need a series of surgeries,” he adds. “The first surgery may be focused on the nerves, where the second would be focused on the transfer of muscle or movement of bones.”

The experienced multidisciplinary team at CHOC is fully equipped to handle all aspects of the repair and guide the patient and their family through every stage of treatment and healing. The surgery is performed in the Tidwell Procedure Center at CHOC, which features seven operating rooms and advanced technology and information systems.

“We like to evaluate patients as early as possible,” says Dr. Amber Leis, a CHOC and UC Irvine plastic surgeon. “We want to be part of the child’s journey and provide long-term care to ensure the best possible outcome.”

Whether or not these patients end up requiring surgery, they all benefit from therapy, explains Dr. Leis. CHOC is proud to offer the latest, research-based physical therapy in one of the most comprehensive rehabilitation centers in the area. Further, depending on their age, diagnosis and treatment plan, some brachial plexus patients may benefit from aquatic physical therapy, which takes place in the center’s pool.

Dr. Olaya and Dr. Leis are committed to building a robust, one-of-a-kind brachial plexus program for children in the region and beyond.

They offer community physicians the following guidelines on when to refer:

  • As early as possible, after a brachial plexus birth palsy with impaired arm movement.
  • After a sports or motor vehicle accident with impaired arm movement or sensation.

Learn more about surgical services at CHOC.