2019 - Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician Picturing a Brighter Future: an interview with Michelle Lee

September 11, 2019
Michelle Lee, MD

Michelle Lee is an Academic Physician in the Pediatric Emergency Department at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. She is currently a co-investigator for a study that examines whether community health workers in Pakistan can be trained to use POCUS to diagnose pediatric pneumonia. She is also the POCUS trainer for a similar project in Kabale, Uganda, training Clinical Officers on this ultrasound application.

What’s your current position?
I am currently an attending in pediatric emergency medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto Canada, which is our largest pediatric tertiary care hospital. I do a combination of clinical work, research, and teaching primarily focusing on projects involving point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) working in locations including Pakistan and Uganda.

What brought you to your current position?
It started with my interest in working with children. Children are a vulnerable population that needs protection, and yet they’re also resilient and bounce back quickly. Timely intervention in childhood can really change a trajectory for years to come, so I find that part of pediatrics to be very rewarding. Within the field of pediatrics, I’m drawn to pediatric emergency medicine because it allows me to interact with children and their families when they are the most vulnerable. It’s a privilege to provide relief at these difficult times.
My academic interest in point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is rooted in the fact that it’s technology that can revolutionize how care is provided in limited-resource settings – especially now that these machines are becoming increasingly portable and affordable.

What do you hope to accomplish with your career?
 My goal is to advance the care of vulnerable children worldwide which will absolutely require a combined effort, but my contribution will hopefully be through improving access to pediatric emergency care. Practically speaking, that will involve strengthening pediatric emergency medicine curricula for providers working in challenging settings. Disseminating the use of innovative technologies like POCUS will also improve the care that these providers can deliver at the bedside, in any remote and resource-strained settings they may be practicing.

Why did you decide to apply to GHDI?
I found out about GHDI at a time when I have been engaged in various projects involving POCUS in Uganda and Pakistan. What I found most challenging was not solely the logistics of implementing these programs, but rather the more systemic, bigger-picture questions. My training has been very disease-focused, but then I began questioning what does it mean for the whole system. Are we choosing outcome measures that are the most meaningful for the patients? What are the implications of our work on their health care system as a whole? What framework can we use to study our program to ensure maximization of the population’s health outcomes? I was ecstatic to find out about GHDI, a program that at its core strives to tackle these bigger questions around global health delivery. Through all the cases studies and the experts who would be teaching us, I hoped to gather more tools and learn the frameworks for studying the effectiveness and impact of the program delivery. And I knew that the reputation of Harvard would attract brilliant minds around the world. I was excited for the opportunity to meet colleagues and mentors who share similar passions and vision.  

What have you gotten from the program?
I have accomplished everything I hoped to gain though GHDI. I go home with a renewed sense of hope. When we look at the world now, there are so many challenges that seem insurmountable. It would be easier to bury our heads in the sand and not have to think about all those things, because they can paralyze you with fear. But it’s been so encouraging to meet colleagues here who work in much more dire situations than I have and are still persevering. I was also inspired by the journeys of our teachers, who were able to overcome significant challenges through grit and creativity. It reminds me to not give up and keep on going in pursuing my goals.

What advice would you give someone just starting in this field?
Working in health care brings a lot of day-to-day challenges, so it may be tempting to just stay within our comfort zone, but we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to obtain an education and become physicians This opportunity comes with great responsibility and a moral obligation to really advocate for those who have no voice and who are in much more vulnerable positions. In the process of advocating, we also enrich our own human experience, and the world is a better place because of it. It’s a win-win in the end if you can picture a better future for the world and exercise your creativity in realizing that better future.