A Conversation With Dr. Ala Shaikhkhalil of the Nationwide Children's Hospital
Many of the ASN leaders that we have interviewed in this space
have been with the organization for some years.However, this
month we spoke with Dr. Ala Shaikhkhalil, who gave us her views
on ASN through the eyes of a new member.Dr. Shaikhkhalil is a
third-year fellow in Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and
Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
She received her undergraduate and doctoral degrees in her home
country of Jordan at the Jordan University of Science and
Technology, where she was motivated to pursue a career in
pediatric GI by her interactions with the children there. After
coming to the United States, Dr. Shaikhkhalil completed her
residency in Pediatrics at the University of Iowa Children's
Hospital. In her interview, she elaborates on the advantages of
ASN membership as well as the challenges that she and her
colleagues face as physicians dedicated to helping improve
children's gastrointestinal and nutritional health both on a
local and a global scale.
Interviewer: What first motivated you to join ASN?
Dr. Shaikhkhalil: I decided to join the organization about three or four months ago, because nutrition is an important focus for me as a pediatric fellow who specializes in GI. One of my mentors, Dr. Christina Valentine, has also been a member of ASN for quite some time. She encouraged me to join the organization based on the high quality of the publications that it produces and the positive educational opportunities that it provides.
Interviewer: How has your membership been most helpful to your professional development?
Dr. Shaikhkhalil: One of the other offerings that Dr. Valentine mentioned was ASN's Research Interest Sections (RIS) and networking groups. When I became a member, I joined the Young Professionals/Postdoc Interest Group and the Vitamins and Minerals RIS. I have found these extremely helpful, particularly the publications and greetings that they send as well as the Internet-based activities they offer. I do expect my membership will continue to contribute to my career, especially as I plan to attend the ASN Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology and hopefully submit an abstract.
Interviewer: What led to your career in pediatric gastroenterology?
Dr. Shaikhkhalil: I am originally from Jordan, where I grew up and attended medical school. As part of my pediatric training there, I came across a lot of children who had severe nutritional deficiencies either due to poverty or chronic diseases. As I continued my professional development, it became my ambition to specialize in exactly those types of nutrition-related problems: to be helpful not only to individual patients but to also participate in global health policy discussions. That is what led me to study gastroenterology and nutrition to be able to understand the whole picture of what my patients face. I decided to pursue a program in the United States, because that training is not offered in my country. Five years ago, I moved here and became a pediatric resident. Through that initial training, I continued to be interested in nutrition-related issues in GI and have worked with some amazing physicians who have affected that training. They include Dr. Ekhard Ziegler and Dr. Valentine.
Interviewer: What have you found are the biggest nutrition-related issues facing patients and your colleagues in your field?
Dr. Shaikhkhalil: My current patients often cope with concerns very different from those facing children in Jordan or other developing nations. However, there are still some issues that are more to do with the resources of the community. We do get referrals for evaluation of children with poor growth or obesity where there are no local resources to address these concerns. That means the family has to travel long distances to reach a central location like Nationwide, making individualized intervention significantly more difficult.
Another obstacle that we struggle with is children that need specialized formulas, which often do not get covered very well by insurance companies. Families are sometimes not able to qualify for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) assistance, so we struggle to help them find the financial resources they need. Obesity also presents a major challenge. It has become an epidemic not only in the United States, but also in a number of other countries around the world for children just as much as adults. Finally, I think that adapting to the new healthcare system is something that a lot of healthcare professionals are concerned about. A lot of us are wondering what healthcare is going to look like in the face of limited resources and providers with not enough funding to train additional medical professionals.