Pediatric neuro-orthopedic surgeon Julieanne Sees, DO, knew her purpose was to help children long before she even became a physician. It was prior to medical school, when she was working as a young lifeguard, that Dr. Sees discovered her love for making children feel safe.
“There was nothing that brought me more joy than to teach someone who was unable to survive in the deep end of the pool, or a little kid who couldn’t even stand in the shallow end, how to,” says Dr. Sees. “It takes sincere trust.”
Having this kind of connection with children, caring for pediatric patients in her eventual role as a physician was a no-brainer.
Today, Dr. Sees is helping children in a new way. As a National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Fellow in Osteopathic Medicine, a two-year position, she is leading research to inform the medical community on COVID-19’s impact on child safety and other public health issues.
Before Dr. Sees, the previous NAM Fellow in Osteopathic Medicine, Michelle Kvalsund, DO, used the opportunity to pursue global health initiatives. Prior to her, Jennie Kwon, DO, helped publish an imperative report on prescription drug costs and innovation, and the quality of global health care, and the first fellow, Creagh Milford, DO, worked on population health advancements.
For Dr. Sees, the NAM Fellowship looks different from before as a result of the global pandemic, but the public health mission is the same, if not more urgent. The DO spoke with Dr. Sees, who is also an AOA Trustee, for an update on her journey so far. Following is an edited Q&A.
When did you first become interested in the academic side of medicine, and how did it eventually lead you to the NAM?
I was a chemistry major in college and actually worked in pharmaceutical research right after college at Pfizer. As a scientific researcher, I kept that interest with me throughout my training and practice in neuro-orthopedic surgery, and now I get a front-row seat to how sound research and commitment to the best practices in medicine can translate into health.
I was honored to have been nominated by Dawn Tartaglione, DO, for the NAM Fellowship in Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Tartaglione knew of my involvement in health advocacy as a student and as a trainee, and knew I had interest in the entirety of medicine outside my narrow surgical subspecialty. The NAM’s mission to improve health by advancing science and providing trusted advice aligned with my passion, and it is what I hope to do with this fellowship.
You collaborated with child abuse pediatrics to better understand the incidence of pediatric injury throughout the current pandemic. How insightful has this past year been?
The pandemic has put us all into very different ways of life, no matter our location. This project seeks to answer if there have been more, less or the same number of incidents of child abuse during this turbulent time. We have used regional electronic medical records and collaboration with other science fields to collect data, and interestingly have not perceived any change in the distribution of types of injuries or the proportion of child-abuse patients seeking care.
There is much more to consider. Here at the NAM, for any topic, we have the advantage of multi-disciplinary scholars partnering on a national level, and with my colleagues of the NAM Emerging Leaders Forum and Brain Injury Committee, we are collaborating even more broadly to create an impactful health report for public awareness and health policy.
What element of your osteopathic philosophy/training do you think is most visible in your current role?
There are a lot of components that go into wellness—as well as sickness—and it is something we look at as DOs. I am very fortunate that at the NAM I am part of the Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience, where this part of the osteopathic philosophy is intuitive.
We DOs have an opportunity to provide a spark and be the beacon of light at this time when mental health issues are being closely looked at within our health care community. We know that wellness means treating the whole person, and that it is not just systems that need to change, but also the way we see the uniquely beautiful individual, which includes patients and fellow clinicians.
You work with many MDs who may not have a degree in osteopathic medicine, but are likely familiar with your DO background. As DOs and MDs integrate more closely, do you think osteopathic principles will become increasingly rooted into health care?
When I sit in a room with my allopathic/MD colleagues and other health care professionals, part of the discussion is often about how to think holistically, which speaks to awareness of osteopathic principles. Furthermore, if you look at our current Physician to the President and our past Physician to the President—both are DOs.
Osteopathic recognition and principles are genuinely spreading through the nation and health care. Whether it is in clinical care or education, people are seeking out our valued principles.
Jennie Kwon, DO, one of your predecessors, now serves on the NAM Health Policy Fellowships and Leadership Programs Advisory Board and is helping expand NAM programs. With this in mind, what would you suggest to other DOs out there who are interested in research and opportunities at the NAM?
All of us, no matter where we are in the osteopathic family tree, can impact health policy. If anyone is interested in interfacing with national and international leaders—including policymakers, administrators, researchers, engineers and scientists—on health policy, then the National Academies are for you. For a DO, this is one of the most rewarding and humbling professional opportunities one can have.