• Article
  • October 26, 2017

Emerging Trends in Pediatrics to Watch

A pediatric leader shares what she sees as the biggest challenges and opportunities in pediatric health care. 

About Gigi Chawla, M.D.

  • Chief of general pediatrics at Children's Minnesota
  • Serves on the "Cradle to K Cabinet," established by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in an effort to eliminate disparities for prenatal children up to three years old
  • Has consistently been named to Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine's annual "Top Doctors" list

More than 10,000 pediatric health care professionals gathered last month in Chicago for the annual national conference and exhibition of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among those in attendance: Gigi Chawla, M.D., chief of general pediatrics at Children's Minnesota. Children's Hospitals Today recently caught up with Chawla to get her perspectives on the future of pediatric health care.

The conference covered a range of topics and trends in pediatric medicine. What themes jumped out at you?

One of the themes that emerged during the conference was social determinants of health. There's an ongoing focus on really understanding our role and to be able to lean in to some critical topics as they relate to kids—things like gun violence, poverty and access to care.

There was also an emphasis on all aspects of subspecialized pediatric care and how they tie in with the more generalized areas of pediatric medicine. To me, that would be early childhood development, how all pediatricians play a role in guiding kids at the pivotal time periods of their lives and recognizing that experience really informs childhood development for the long term.

Do any of these trends have you thinking differently about your work? Or ideas you are excited to potentially implement?

Oh, yes. For example:

  • With Bright Futures (guidelines for prevention and health promotion for infants, children, adolescents and their families), the lesson was about going from selective screening to universal screening and promoting lifelong health, and how we can start to be drivers in doing some of that work. 
  • In early childhood development, learning how important the ACEs screening tool is and who is going to help be your connection once you've identified kids at risk. 
  • From an adolescent standpoint, thinking about the connections between LGBTQ patients and bullying and suicide, as well as looking at what we do for all teens—how we talk with teens about piercings and tattoos and help them feel empowered about their own health decisions, but yet understand that they probably don't fully recognize how some of these decisions might impact them over the course of their lifetime. That can apply to contraception or any other aspect of their generalized health. 
  • There are a lot of things that we took back to Children's Minnesota specifically for advocacy. We've decided to build a platform of connecting resources right into our clinic. A community health worker model allows us to connect patients to resources in our community. We want to be able to validate the resources we're giving families and know those resources are going to help them on their journey to improve a health experience that will allow us to do our own work in an enhanced way.

What do you see as the primary challenges facing pediatric medicine moving forward?

I want pediatricians to stay relevant. There are so many sources of information that families can reach out to for the care of their child. It is about trying to ensure we are building the connection with the patient and family that allows us to be their trusted resource.

We must try to tear down some of the brick-and-mortar structure that we've built for pediatric knowledge and make it a message in a digestible format that allows our pediatricians to be more of a day-to-day central repository of information in the lives of patients and families, rather than a yearly or twice yearly area of information.

We have to align ourselves in a way that allows for access, quick information and online scheduling—all the things that allow us to connect with the people who are going to be our next generation, having infants grow and build with us. That's what I think about a lot.

Pediatrics is not going to look the same a decade from now. We as pediatricians are going to be walking alongside our patients helping them navigate their health care. I would challenge everybody to really try to step into that space. If we don't step into that space, others will, and they'll fill the void with some other voice that isn't guiding the way pediatric health care should be offered. We have those answers, so we should really be the people dictating.

Tell us something that most people don't know about you.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I write short stories with a health care twist. I don't publish at this time, so it's mostly for my friends and family. I love character development.

My focus has been in the realm of health care professionals:

  • How are you able to do the hard things that you're doing every day without taking it home?
  • Where are the areas in your life that you're allowed to be a regular person?
  • How do you deal with the things that you learned and heard that day?

The main character I write about is usually a clinician. She thinks about the kids she helped or did not help. That's the hardest part—the times that you've really tried, and it failed—and how the clinician manages that.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.