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Faculty Spotlight: Jennifer Peterson, MD

Sunday, March 8, 2020
Jennifer Peterson, MD

This week's Faculty Spotlight shines on Jennifer Peterson, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Neonatology. Peterson talks to us about her roles as medical director of the Intensive Care Nursery and educational manager for the ICN rotation for pediatric trainees. Interestingly, she knew she wanted to be a doctor from the age of 12 and became passionate about neonatal-perinatal medicine after her first rotation in the ICN. She also talks about her most significant mentor, Dr. Ron Goldberg, who taught her not to take any patient for granted and to be steadfast and cognizant of the fact that a situation can change within minutes.

How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I first came to DUHS for my pediatric residency in 1999 and stayed to complete the first year of my neonatal-perinatal fellowship in the Duke ICN.  I returned “home” after 14 years away in July 2017.  I was excited to return to Duke to be a part of the Division of Neonatology which had strong opportunities in academics, leadership, and research.

What are your responsibilities within the Division of Neonatology? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am medical director of the Intensive Care Nursery at Duke Hospital. I am also the educational manager for the ICN rotation for the pediatric trainees.  There is never a dull moment in my day at Duke.  I start my day off with working with Labor and Delivery services and strategizing about admissions and bed flow.  I am primarily clinical so I spend 90% of my time on clinical service in the unit usually rounding on up to 30 patients. I enjoy family centered rounds and collaborating with our subspecialists to provide flawless care to our most fragile patients.  During the day, I also enjoy mentoring our pediatric residents and neonatal fellows.

How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue neonatal-perinatal medicine in particular?
From the age of 12, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.  I really never imagined my life as anything else.  I initially thought I would be an OB/Gyn and later considered geriatric medicine.  After my pediatric rotation, I realized I thrived on interacting with children and communicating with parents.  I became passionate about neonatal-perinatal medicine after my first rotation in the ICN.  I still vividly remember examining my first premature patient and marveling at the ability of such a small patient to survive and thrive!

What’s one thing you wished more of your patients knew about neonatology or medicine in general?
I can only imagine the stress of having a baby in the intensive care nursery. I am always telling parents that the time in the ICN is like a marathon, not a sprint.  I want families to “pace” themselves for their baby’s journey. 

What are your specific interests in the field of neonatology?
I participate in the neurodevelopmental follow-up of complex patients with congenital heart disease in the Pediatric Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Clinic. I am also truly invested in family centered care and following up with families I have worked with in the ICN. I enjoy working with the pediatric residency program to improve the intensive care nursery rotation and educational opportunities for the trainees.

Is there any research you are doing or plan on doing?
I am the site principal investigator on several NICHD studies investigating darbepoetin and its potential neuroprotective properties, treatment options for patient ductus arteriosus, and the effect of milrinone in patients with congenital diaphragmatic hernia.  I am also involved in a study examining the impact of exclusive human milk on feeding tolerance in infants with congenital gastrointestinal disorders. 

You completed your residency and fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine here at Duke. How did that experience help prepare you for your current position? Can you name one or two memorable moments or aspects of the program that stand out?
What I loved best about my program was the people that were in my residency class and how supportive we were to each other. We truly cared about the well being of our colleagues and it showed in our day to day interactions with patients.  This is still apparent in my own division today.  My colleagues stand out as amazing physicians who provide exceptional care to our babies.  I admire them and feel fortunate to collaborate with them. 

Who was your most significant mentor and what knowledge did you gain through this collaboration?
During my first rotation in the ICN, Dr. Ron Goldberg was my attending.  Without a doubt, he is the reason I do what I do today.  As an intern, Dr. Goldberg reminded all of us to not take any patient for granted and to be steadfast and cognizant of the fact that things can change within minutes. He exquisitely stressed the importance of physical examination and how critical it was to our assessments and daily plans. His impact on me was so impressive that I fell in love with the field of neonatology and decided that it was the best career choice for me. 

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
I wear many hats but the one I am most proud of is being a mother and wife to an amazing, supportive family.  I enjoy spending time with my husband and our three children (ages 10, 12, and 14) traveling, cooking or just chilling and watching a movie at home.