How I Practice

Everyday heroes: The horrors and rewards of child abuse pediatrics

Two DOs in Oklahoma talk about the important work they’re doing in this new subspecialty.


Last year, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services investigated nearly 64,000 cases of possible child abuse and neglect. A diverse team of professionals, including child abuse pediatricians, is dedicated to advocating on behalf of these young Oklahomans. Child abuse pediatricians receive training that helps them better understand the legal system so they are prepared to participate in depositions and testify in court.

Michael A. Baxter, DO, and Lauren Conway, DO, both work in this subspecialty. Dr. Baxter serves as the medical director for the new child abuse pediatrics fellowship program at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa School of Community Medicine (OU-Tulsa) and on the team at its Children’s Advocacy Center. Dr. Conway is the first fellow for the OU-Tulsa program.

In this edited conversation, Dr. Baxter and Dr. Conway share what drew them to this field and how they stay grounded after seeing horrific cases day in and day out.

What led you to this subspecialty?

Dr. Baxter: During my second year of medical school, I attended a lecture by Robert Block, MD. He talked about the center where I now work, and his stories were eye-opening. When you hear something like that, you either walk away from it or run toward it. I always wanted to be a pediatrician and when I did my clinical rotation here at the Children’s Advocacy Center, I knew it was a fit for me.

Dr. Conway: Like Dr. Baxter, I heard Dr. Block’s lecture as a second-year. The stories he shared were so compelling and difficult to hear. People were walking out in tears. I felt empowered and saw an opportunity to do something to help these children.

Can you describe the pathway to train in the field?

Dr. Conway: You need to complete a three-year residency in general pediatrics and can apply in your third year for a fellowship in child abuse pediatrics. The fellowship programs last three years, and typically start in July. However, my program is new and I began earlier this year in January.

How do you keep these abuse and neglect cases from weighing on you?

Dr. Baxter: We’re affected by the pictures and stories we hear on a regular basis. We’re working with the Helfer Society, a leading organization in the field of child abuse pediatrics, to develop strategies to prevent burnout and to help physicians stay grounded. It’s important to have an active life outside of here. I make time for exercise and family.

Dr. Conway: I have two young children and stay pretty busy with their activities. I try to leave work at the office and make my family time all about my kids.

What is the most rewarding part about being a child abuse pediatrician?

Dr. Conway: One case stands out to me. Child Protective Services had brought several children to the Center. They stayed in a conference room for some time while staff made arrangements for them. After the children left, the staff looked at the whiteboard that was in the conference room. The kids had written messages of thanks and drawn pictures to show their appreciation. It reminded me that the work we do is powerful and makes a difference.

Dr. Baxter: Our job comes with difficulties, but we also see some of the best aspects of humanity and work with true heroes: the staff who spend time with these children outside of normal working hours, the detectives who enter horrific scenes where children have been harmed, the forensic interviewers who listen to children’s stories, and the prosecutors who advocate for justice.


  1. Polly R.

    Thank you for giving these subspecialists some of the recognition they deserve in our procedure-driven health care system. These physician’s important work effects all of us in a positive way. This is where we should be putting our resources – towards the protection of children.

  2. Nydia

    Watch the Syndrome is all I have to say. For this specialty to work, The CAP needs to be a quarterback and send medical records to experts in illnesses. Sadly too many parents are being jailed and accused based on theories that have never been proven. This wave of Fellowships is going to leave thousands of children without their biological parents. Reform is needed on how these CAPs are allowed to accuse parents. There used to be a time infants had medical conditions. Nowadays those medical conditions disappeared and parents are accused. What is happening in this country is shameful. If I were young I wouldn’t have a baby. If your baby has a medical or genetic condition with these CAPs you are screwed.

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