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Dr. Beth Robinson Swartz is a pediatrician on Hope for HIE’s Medical Advisory Board. She has practiced for over thirty years in both the private practice and hospital settings, spending a large portion of her career affiliated with the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Now, as Beth reflects back upon her time as a pediatrician as she transitions to retirement, she is truly grateful for all the children and families she has met along the way.
Dr. Beth Robinson Swartz has learned many important lessons from the HIE families she has had the privilege of interacting with. She has learned to be more open-minded about hope and that, even if a situation doesn’t seem ideal, it’s not wrong to be optimistic. In addition, she has witnessed how difficult it can be for HIE parents to juggle taking their children to multiple different specialists. Beth has honed her skills as a medical home provider for these patients and families, making an intentional effort to serve as a central anchor families can turn to first when they don’t know where to go. With so many specialists and life changes going on—from the NICU days to the preschool days to the transition into adulthood—families will always have questions related to what happens next. While helping families weave their way through these transitions has been challenging, it’s also been rewarding and thrilling.
To other pediatricians navigating how to best support families and children with more complex medical needs, Beth would say to first always listen to the parents and to the patient. Because the mental health symptom load is so high among the HIE parent population, Beth reminds pediatricians that checking on a child’s developmental progress is not enough. It’s also vital to ask parents how they’re doing and to direct them to the appropriate mental health resources should they need additional support. Healthy children really do begin with healthy parents.
Furthermore, providers shouldn’t be scared to talk to other specialists, since general pediatrics is a specialty in and of itself. While general pediatricians may not be focused on a particular body system, it requires a special set of skills to have that holistic view. Being able to show families the bigger picture out of all the different puzzle pieces they have been handed by other specialists is no easy feat. In addition, since families have typically already had those difficult conversations before coming into the pediatrician’s office, Beth stresses the importance of letting parents take the lead in the discussions—that way, it can be determined how much they retained from what they’ve already been told. If some aspects still remain confusing to a family, that’s okay. Pediatricians should take their time and have patience, as it often takes repeat exposure for families to process everything going on.
With provider burnout at an all-time high, self-care is an important priority. Especially on her very busy days, it could be overwhelming for Beth to balance seeing all her patients in a timely manner with making sure she remained present with each individual patient. So, for Beth, self-care often included reminding receptionists to book longer appointments for her medically complex patients. Self-care was often as simple as relaxing her shoulders and taking a deep breath before walking into a patient room. Self-care sometimes looked like being vulnerable to the families she felt closest to, if she is having a difficult time. When she was having trouble retiring and walking away from patients she had been seeing for over twenty-one years in some cases, Beth felt much better when she hugged and opened up to those families she had become deeply connected to.
At this point in her life, Beth is not yet sure whether she is officially retired, or whether she will continue to work in pediatrics in a different capacity. Yet, the way that so many HIE families have handled uncertainty with grace has inspired Beth that she can do the same. To have been able to watch so many children grow into strong, resilient people, despite difficult beginnings, has been a great blessing. As she moves on to the next phase of her life, Beth has hope that the treatments and support available for HIE will only continue to grow and improve.
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