Dr. Nina Washington, assistant professor of pediatrics, is one of only two pediatric rheumatologists at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A 2007 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, she finished her pediatric residency at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital and a fellowship at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital of Stanford University. In 2013, she returned to Jackson to work in the highly specialized field at Batson Children's Hospital. The ability to give a high level of care to children is something Washington considers a privilege. It's an honor she was on the receiving end of as a child.
1. What is pediatric rheumatology?
I feel like even since I've been doing it, this is an evolving field. Most people would tend to think of it as an autoimmunity-related field, but I think we do a lot more than that. We take care of children with arthritis, with connective tissue diseases such as lupus. We take care of children who have inflammation of their blood vessels like vasculitis, or those who have inflammation in their eyes - uveitis. I would say we're a sub-speciality pediatrician, because the illnesses we tend to treat involve the whole body.
2. How did you get involved in this specific field?
I guess it's pretty divine how I got involved. I initially entered medical school wanting to be an obstetrician/gynecologist. And that didn't work out so well. Then I fell in love with pediatrics. I don't think it's a secret to anyone here that I have lupus, and I spent a lot of time here as a child. The more I learned about my own personal disease, the more the field of rheumatology became more interesting to me. I felt because of the personal experience I had, I would be able to put myself in my patient's position.
3. What's it like to be able to give such a special level of care?
It's a privilege more than anything. I often try to remind myself when the hours are getting long and the consults start piling in, it's a privilege to be able to have received the training that I have and the knowledge I've learned about this field and to be able to use that to make my patients' lives better. It's so rewarding when you have a child who comes in and they're limping. And then three months later, they're not limping any more. It's an honor, I would say.
4. What brought you back to UMMC?
That's a multifaceted question. I'd say primarily the fact I knew I could serve a need here. My colleague, Dr. Linda Ray, was the only pediatric rheumatologist here for over 20 years. So I knew this would be a place where I could be used, where I would be needed and where I could serve a need. Secondary, I was fortunate to receive a Barksdale scholarship when I went to medical school here, which is a full-ride scholarship to UMMC with the return that you come back after you finish all of your formal training and you work in the state of Mississippi for five years. Also my family is here, so that's No. 3.
5. In a state with an abundance of health issues, is there a greater need for your specialty than other places?
The need is everywhere. I don't necessarily think the need is more in Mississippi than other places. I think the need hasn't been serviced as well simply because of the lack of access to a trained pediatric rheumatologist. I think it's more of a need everywhere because these are diseases that occur in children. They need to be taken care of, and we just haven't had the manpower to always take care of them the way we would like to.