Dr. Plastic Picker Reveals All – to the AAP Blog
March 10, 2022
by Dr. Plastic Picker
Wow. Blog traffic really picked up. I always average about 400-500 readers a day, and sometimes it goes up to 1500. Now the recent traffic is about 600 a day. I wonder why? This blog is non-monetized and really about entertaining my community and nudging readers to take some environmental action. I know it might be dizzying the amount of environmental work I do. But if you know me in real life, this is how I’ve always been. I like to get things done and projects completed, and I’m generally an effective person. Now that I’ve found climate work, which is really endless – I’ve found my happy spot and do projects that bring me joy.
One of the organizations that brings me so much joy is our local AAP-CA3 San Diego chapter. They (we) are the best. Sydney at the central office wanted me to answer some questions, and honestly I’ll do a better job if I blog about it as well for my own readers. So here are her questions, and my draft answers. Get ready, dear readers! Dr. Plastic Picker is going to do the big reveal! (kind of in the style of my friend Eat, Sleep, Breathe FI https://eatsleepbreathefi.com/ blogpost that was super popular).
- When did you know you wanted to become a doctor/pediatrician? I’ll be honest. I’m the only doctor and indeed health professional in my immediate family. I don’t really think I knew what I was getting myself into. The true story is that when I was at Harvard Medical School at the beginning of third year clerkships (I chose to do surgery first), I was shocked to find out that medical students and doctors had to sleep in the hospital. That day when I was handed my student pager, was the beginning of a decade really of q3-4 call. I don’t think my parents truly realized when they encouraged me to be a doctor when that really meant. I was good in math and sciences, and I wanted to do something to help the world and medicine seemed a good fit. In the end pediatrics was my calling, but I was already a pediatrician before I realized it. That’s the true story.
- Why did you choose pediatrics? Can I be honest again? I intended to be an Ob-Gyn, and loved everything about working with women and being empowered as a women’s health provider. The story of when the baby is born and the future pediatrician rotating in ob-gyn, and naturally looking toward the baby and not the mother? That was not true for me. My eyes as a medical student was 100% on the mother. I was very practical as a student, I liked kids and I’m only 5’2″. So I felt more comfortable being taller than my patients. Do you notice that NICU doctors tend to be shorter as well? Someone needs to do a study on that. I really liked internal medicine, but adults never had anyone that was responsible for them. When you are a pediatrician, usually there is a parent to partner with. I loved working with parents. Also the adult part of the Emergency room is really stinky. I trained in Boston at Mass General Hospital, and we were a children’s hospital within a hospital. The Pediatric ED side smelled better. Adult side, lots of inebrieated adults sleeping it off at night without any person who would pick them up! Now being in my mid-forties and being a mother, I realize pediatrics was my calling and 100% the right decision. But when I chose the specialty, I don’t think I had enough self-awareness to know why. It felt like the right decision back then, and I’m so glad I listened to my heart.
- What was the journey through medical school and residency like for you? I absolutely loved medical school and residency. I went to Harvard Medical School, where my husband was already a student. We were college premed biology lab partners, super nerdy story, and dated. I went to Harvard and gave up UCSF to stay with my boyfriend, and it was the best decision since we have been together for 25 years now! We couples matched at Mass General Hospital, Jong in Diagnostic Radiology and myself in Pediatrics. MGH was a magical place to train. We were residents there together, chief residents and also did fellowship training together there. We had our two children there as well.
- Who are some of your role models and why? My role models are my two climate and health mentors, Dr. Lori Byron who is the lead for the National AAP Climate Advocate Program. She is past president of the Montana AAP chapter and has being doing climate work full time since retiring. Dr. Bruce Bekkar, who is a retired Kaiser OB-Gyn here in San Diego, is my other role model. They both have mentored a whole generation now of physicians in climate work, and lead with their hearts and integrity. I am so grateful to have met these giants mid-career. They helped me understand my place in the world, and my worth when I was in a difficult place in my career and thinking about leaving medicine. They were Dr. Plastic Picker’s first big fans!
- What are some of the leadership roles you currently hold, and can you speak to the importance of having more women on boards? I’m kind of all over the place in the climate and health world, because there is so much that needs to be done. On a fun note, I’m Dr. Plastic Picker on Instagram and on my own Environmental Action Blog. I’m a “plogger” pick up trash and jog on the beach, and documented my journey to 1000 bags. I’m currently still Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser, but will be transitioning to more sustainability leadership soon. My big two positions as a climate leader, is Chair of Public Health Advisory Council of Climate Actions Campaign and Chair of AAP California State Government Affairs Expert Committe of Environmental Health and Climate Change. I am also Co-Founder of San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air.
- What advice would you give to women who are going through medical school, residency, or who are considering medical school? For young women who are at the beginning of their professional medical journey, I would say keep on looking around and building your support network. It’s hard being a woman in medicine, balancing motherhood and marriage and life. You need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For me, my life changed when I had my second child and she was very ill as a preemie 27 weeker in the NICU. When you are a pediatrician and they tell you that your kid has E Coli meningigits? It wakes you up. She was a fighter and is healthy now at 13 and plays club volleyball and on the honor roll. But when she was sick in the NICU and I was a fellow suffering post-partum depression, I realized I needed help. I came home to San Diego, and my husband and I left the Harvard system that we loved and gave up those job offers to joine Kaiser. It was the best decision for our family and us professionally. Kaiser is a wonderful system. But mostly that decision was important, because I had my support network in San Diego and I’m rooted her. I love 5 minutes from my mother and with my mother-in-law. Some people ask how it is that I’m able to do everything that I do with climate, and it’s simply because I have that support network. Your support network will be different. But build it and maintain it, to cushion your family as you embark into the world of medicine. It’s still hard, but it’s totally worth it.
Wow. That was fun! Thanks for being my sounding board dear readers!