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Faculty Spotlight: Carolyn Sears Avery, MD, MHS

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Carolyn Avery, MD

This week's faculty spotlight shines on Carolyn Avery, MD, MHS, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Primary Care and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Internal Medicine. Avery talks to us about how she was initially impressed by the strength and comradery of the med-peds community at Duke when she was interviewing. She discusses how she gradually became interested in pursuing a career in medicine, and how she now finds taking care of multiple members within a family/household and longitudinal care most rewarding. She also provides some insights into her current research and numerous special projects she's involved with as well as the invaluable lessons learned from her most significant mentor, Dr. Marietta Vazquez.

How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I came to Duke in 2009 for my med-peds residency. I am a New England girl, and Duke was not at all on my radar until I started interviewing. I am pretty sure at the time I, embarrassingly, didn’t even know which state Duke was in! When I came to visit, I was wowed by the strength and comradery of the med-peds community. The med-peds program had strong identity and leadership and had 2 pillars of renowned categorical programs supporting it. Luckily my husband was equally enthralled with Duke since we couples matched. It has been a great academic experience for both of us, and we are happy to still be here 10 years later.

What are your current responsibilities within the Department of Pediatrics? What does your typical day look like?
I have a mix of clinical, teaching, and administrative jobs. The med-peds academic dream! I see my own patients (adults and children) at our med-peds clinic on Roxboro St, and I precept the med-peds residents in their continuity clinic. I serve as the medical director for the med-peds resident clinic and for all of Duke Health Center at Roxboro St (that houses the med-peds clinic, one of the three Duke Peds Primary Care sites, child abuse clinic, foster care clinic, Healthy Lifestyles clinic, and pediatric mental health clinic). I recently also took a role at the Population Health Management Office as the pediatric medical director for Duke’s Medicaid Clinically Integrated Network (CIN). A typical day is a mix of seeing patients, meetings, teaching residents, meetings, QI work, and more meetings.

How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue medicine-pediatrics in particular?
I think I fought the medicine inclination for a while. (Some might say I am a bit stubborn.) I loved the sciences and biology but didn’t want to be pre-med just because of that. I toyed with being a history teacher and think I even applied to be a CIA agent. I did not know anyone in medicine so it was hard to know what being a doctor really meant. I spent 3 months working as an EMT in Honduras and felt like I was in my element. Then after college graduation, I rode my bike across the country and it was somewhere in the Rockies nursing a friend’s fall that I decided to stop being stubborn and give in to the inevitable. I thought I was going to be an internist, maybe in the ER or maybe specializing in ID and global health, but then I met a wonderful pediatric hospitalist and awe-inspiring med-peds residents during my inpatient pediatrics rotation, and I was smitten. I kept being paired with these amazing med-peds residents throughout my clinical rotations and took it as a sign. I had found my people and my field.  

What are your specific interests in the field of medicine-pediatrics? What do you enjoy most about your work?
I really just love general medicine and knowing that any symptom or illness could be behind the door when I walk into a patient’s room. I find taking care of multiple members within a family/household and longitudinal care the most rewarding. I have many patients I have seen since I was an intern (and they often remind me that they “knew me when”!). I love the bidirectional teaching in our med-peds resident clinic. It is a fun, jovial, collaborative learning environment and definitely helps keep me up to date on all the recent studies. I am inspired every day by the people I work with at “the Rox”, aptly named “Rox stars”. They are a dedicated, resilient group motivated by all the right human instincts and so supportive of each other and our patients.

Is there any research or other special projects you are doing or plan on doing?
Lots! Right now, there’s an abundance of Q/PI projects. I am involved with projects around adverse childhood experiences (ACE) screening, social drivers screening, improving resident continuity, recognition of pediatric hypertension, and MyChart enrollment. This year I have been working with a multidisciplinary team on making Duke Health Center at Roxboro St a “trauma-informed clinic.” We also rolled out the Duke Quality System this week and already have 10 A3’s cooking. In my work with population health, we are trying to develop a pediatric-focused approach to population health including pediatric-specific risk stratification, quality metrics, and resource allocation.

Who was your most significant mentor and what knowledge did you gain through this collaboration?
Dr. Marietta Vazquez was my research mentor for my last 2 years of medical school. She is a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Yale. She is one of those “mommy doctors” who can somehow do it all with grace and humor. I learned so much from watching her lead research teams, treat patients, and teach residents. She taught me the ins and outs of developing research questions, designing methods, and engaging stakeholders. She was so motivating in her humanitarian commitment to her patients but also let it be no secret that her family and three kids came first. I think back to these lessons often now as I try to balance my own commitments to my patients and to my family.

Do you have any advice for trainees?
Enjoy those call nights! Maybe I am a little sadistic but some of my fondest memories of training were the nights on call -- popping in arterial lines in the VA MICU, running to RRTs on 5100, and diagnosing new admissions in the ED. Likewise, appreciate your friends and take advantage of the endless stream of mentors/teachers. Some of my best friends remain my residency classmates, and I still message my previous attendings for patient advice!

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
Running, hiking, Red Sox, jigsaw puzzles, eating chocolate, imaginative play (directed by the 3 year old who was just introduced to Frozen, so you can guess what most post-dinner entertainment looks like).