Getting to Know Your Pediatrician

Hospitals can be intimidating, especially when someone you love is being treated. It is comforting to have a relatable doctor, who can help you learn everything you need to know.  In order to help our patients get to know their caregivers better, we will be posting interviews with our doctors to increase their accessibility and answer some of your questions about them.

The following interview is with Nina Schor, M.D., Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and pediatrician-in-chief of URMC’s Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Q: What got you interested in going into the field of pediatrics as a profession?

A: I have always enjoyed most being and working with children.  I particularly enjoy their candor, their resilience, and the chance, as their
mentor, to make a difference for a lifetime.

Q: What prompted your research on neuroblastoma?

A: As a medical student, I was struck by the resistance of neuroblastoma cells, which are actually cancerous, primitive nerve cells, to chemotherapy.  As a graduate student, I realized that all of the attempts to improve therapy for neuroblastoma attacked their characteristics as cancer cells, but completely ignored the fact that they were nerve cells that failed to mature.  I thought that bringing the perspective of the neurobiologist to design of neuroblastoma therapies might provide new insights and approaches to this deadly cancer of childhood.

Q: What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve had to face in your career?

A: My most difficult challenge throughout my career has been maintaining momentum and a public aura of hope when the odds are not lined up for the greater good.  This is a challenge whether it’s directed at research (like when only 8% of research grant proposals are getting funded), or at clinical situations (like when every drug aimed at stopping seizures fails to work in a child with epilepsy), or at teaching (like when there is no money available to fund the salary of the medical school professor who wins every teaching award every year).

Q: What is your favorite part of working in Pediatrics?

A: That’s an easy question: the kids!

Q: Which part of your career do you find most fulfilling? Teaching, research, or your clinical work?

A: I actually love all three, and it is very hard sometimes for me to separate one from the other.  I am usually doing some measure of each of those all the time.  I would have to say that my first love, and the one that drew me to medicine, is research.  I love the intellectual challenges, the “puzzle-solving” aspects, and, especially, the chance to make a contribution that affects children and families for generations and generations to come.  But I would not enjoy research at all if it were a solitary enterprise.  One of the things I like most about research is the mentoring of the next generation of physician-scientists that comes with it.  Again, just as with the patients research stands to help, research-associated teaching is about legacy.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing for patients and their parents to know about their pediatrician?

A: The most important thing is to know that you feel comfortable asking anything of and telling anything to your pediatrician.  This is not a “fact” kind of thing; it is a “relationship” kind of thing.  Your pediatrician’s ability to help your child is completely dependent on your feeling comfortable to give him or her all of the information you have about your child and to ask him or her whatever you need to best care for your child.

Q: If you weren’t a doctor, what do you think you would want to know about your child’s pediatrician?

A: I would want to know that my child’s pediatrician was willing to explain anything to me and to hear my observations, questions, and concerns about my child.

Q: I hear you’re also a poet and a musician – who’s your favorite poet and what is your favorite music to play?

A: My favorite poets – it’s a toss-up between Wallace Stevens and Phillip Booth.

My favorite music to play – this one’s a three-way tie: Chopin Nocturnes, Klezmer music, and easy-listening popular tunes

Q: Is it true you’ve published a book of poetry?

A: Yes, I have published a “chapbook” called “To the East of Ever After”.

Q: What did it take to get published?

A: A lot of writing and rewriting and reworking and revising!

Q: How long have you been writing poetry?

A: I wrote my first poem (a not very good one, in retrospect) for a “Hobby Fair” my elementary school had when I was in the fourth grade!  (I don’t think I want to tell you just how many years ago that was!)

Q: How do you still find time to write as the head chair of the department of pediatrics?

A: Writing the initial draft of a poem comes very naturally to me.  Often, in the midst of something very mundane, a phrase or line or group of lines just pops into my head.  I usually very intermittently work and rework the lines and the ones that grow around them in my head, often over days or weeks.  By the time I sit down to write the poem on a piece of paper, it is almost finished!

Q: What is the most exciting aspect of working as the head of Golisano Children’s Hospital?

A: Over all, I’d say it is the opportunities I get to meet an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of the University and community and to bring them together in innovative ways to enhance the health and well-being of children.  Right now, I’d say it is working as part of a team to make our evolving new Golisano Children’s Hospital building happen!

Q: Is there anything you wish you’d learned earlier in your career about working in pediatrics?

A: Actually, there have not been a lot of surprises along the way.  I have been blessed with an extraordinarily gifted and generous collection of mentors who prepared me well for just about every step in the process.

Q: Do you have any advice on how to be a great pediatrician?

A: Be honest with yourself; honest with and accessible to your patients and families; and honest with, accessible to, and grateful for your professional colleagues.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom you like to live by?

A: If you wake up and look at yourself in the mirror and have lost the ability to laugh at the person who looks back at you, the ballgame is over!

Watch this video in which Dr. Schor describes plans for the new Golisano Children’s Hospital.

What doctor at URMC’s Golisano Children’s Hospital would you like to see interviewed? What are some questions that you might have to get to know your doctors better?

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