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  • Mark Casey

Finding Joy in Life and Medicine


"We view children as a movie, not as a snapshot in time. We want to connect the dots across a child's life so that they maximize their potential not only now but into the future." -Dr. Shari Barkin MD

An Interview with:

Dr. Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS

Division Chief of General Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt


Fun Facts:

· Grew up in Maryland

· Went to Duke University

· Danced with the Washington Ballet Company

· Hitchhiked across Australia & New Zealand

· Went to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

· Has lived in Nashville for 12 years

· Sings and is learning how to play the guitalele (a combination of a guitar and ukulele)

· Is a sign language interpreter

· Named the 2018 TN AAP Pediatrician of the Year

How did you start in Medicine?

I am the daughter of a doctor and a nurse. My father was an incredible allergist that cared for children and families (3 & 4 generations at a time) since he was a solo practitioner for 45 years. He was a great role model for what it was to make a difference in peoples lives at just the right time in their journey. I didn’t get to see my mother being a nurse because that was before I was born, but she left a legacy of providing family-centered, thoughtful, service oriented medical care . After her death we named a nursing scholarship for her because of these qualities. So through dinner conversations and seeing my parents in action it left a mark on me. However, I did not initially pursue the medical field, I had plans to become a professional dancer. In high school, I danced with the Washington Ballet Company and a jazz company where half of those in the company where deaf and hard-of-hearing. All of our rehearsals were in sign language and this is how I learned that language. I knew I would go to college to expand my career options, since dancers often have a short-lived career that depends entirely on their physical health. After dancing in New York during the summer of my freshman year at Duke, I returned for my sophomore year and awoke one night with an ascending paralysis; I couldn’t feel my legs. I was hospitalized for weeks with no clarity about how/if I would walk again. Through the lens of being a patient, it was clear that to be a doctor knowledge was necessary but not sufficient. It is so much more and includes compassion, good communication and a commitment to advocating for the patient as well as effectively working on teams to provide patient-centered care.


What makes your business/practice unique in our community?

We are unique in many ways. First, we strive to be team oriented. Being in an academic setting we want to make sure that we are training the next generation of doctors and giving them the tools they need to take care of the patient and patient-family both today and in the future. Secondly, we are also very process oriented. We strive to improve the processes on a constant basis for patients and we are committed to using data to strive for continuous improvement.


Do you have a mission statement?

Transforming health for children, families and communities across the lifespan to maximize a child's potential and break cycles of chronic illness.

That is my mission statement, but I also have guiding principles that direct me each day when I come to work: live with integrity, bring your best to the moment, stay engaged to make a positive difference, and make things better for others. I believe that all of this needs to be infused with JOY! I seek to bring joy to my team, my patients, families and everyone I interact with.


Tell us about your team that you work with:

In the Division of Academic General Pediatrics at Vanderbilt Medical Center we have 40 faculty and well over 50 staff. We also work with 84 residents. We are so fortunate to have a multidisciplinary team that includes case workers, social workers and interpreters as well.

In the Vanderbilt Pediatric Care Clinic we serve 17,000 unique families and 54 languages are spoken. We work with talented on-site interpreters for common languages and use a video interpreting system to be able to communicate with these multiple languages and cultures.

We also have volunteers and child life specialists. It is a privilege to work alongside so many remarkable people.



What are your goals for your patients?

This question really reflects back to my mission statement and my desire to see kids achieve their maximum potential throughout their lives. The reason I have been drawn to Primary Care is because I care so deeply about health promotion and how we maximize connecting the dots with children and families so that children reach their maximum potential.

What are your goals for your practice?

Providing the highest quality care in a comprehensive coordinated way that considers the child in the context of their family and the family in the context of their community. We strive to use data and direct evidence to advance patient outcomes. We also seek to be effective and team based. We strive to lift each other up as a team as well as the people we serve.


What is the culture that you infuse into your practice?

Teamwork, compassion, curiosity, service and always striving to do better... continual quality improvement. Curiosity is so important to me because it connects you to education. We are all lifelong learners and we do that better together.


What are the staff’s foremost concerns?

The pace and volume of clinical care. My father was such a good example of providing unhurried patient care. He was not on the clock with a patient. He stayed with one patient until they were finished and then he would move on to the next patient. I entered into medicine with the false notion that it would be the same for me and my patients, however, healthcare has become a business with a lot of rules (some are very important and make us better while others are burdensome without clear value-added). The combination of pace of clinical care and how many patients you need to see along with additional administrative burden leads to burnout and less joy in your work. These concerns are not isolated to us, but are healthcare concerns across the country. We don't want to lose the joy in our work and the time to do the work well with reasonable boundaries in today’s world of constant work.


How do you try and maintain a balanced life outside of work?

Most of us leave work knowing there is always more to do. At some point we all need to wrap up our day knowing we have done the most important things we can for the day and then we go home to continue investing in our families, friends and community. Having a great support system in place is critical to work-life balance. For me, I could’t do what I do without the unwavering support of my husband., We are fortunate to have three children who are kind, smart, and good people. Knowing that I need to be home for them, is a great incentive to ensure I set reasonable work boundaries and don’t miss family time. I am a classic generalist. I am interested in many things. I started playing a new instrument so that I could play music with my children. I also returned to dance lessons recently. Music and languages appeal to me as a life-long learner. I am a sign language interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. I learned Spanish during residency, but continue with adult language lessons now to better understand the nuances of grammar. It's important to me to integrate the things that I do with my children and involve them in it whenever possible. For instance, over the years, we regularly volunteer as a family at Second Harvest Food Bank. I think you maintain the eb and flow of life outside of work by making sure that you are being a well-rounded fully engaged person.


Have you ever been close to quitting? How did you stay engaged and push through?

I have a committed and tenacious personality. I will even finish reading a book that I don't like, just because the whole notion of quitting doesn't even enter my mind. I have certainly had times of frustration where I needed to step back and look at the big picture. This allows me to gain perspective in the moment and identify if redirection is needed. So to me, it boils down to perspective and ensuring I can use my unique skillset to make the most meaningful contribution to children’s health.


What motivates you?

Connecting the dots in innovative ways and helping people connect to their purpose and potential.


How important is continuing education for you?

I am my father's daughter in that I am very curious and love to learn new things, but I am "old school" in that I really love to learn in community with others. So I prefer conferences, classes and webinars. I am also a huge Podcast fan and take the opportunity to learn during my drive to work and while I am walking the dog. They range from Ted Talk's from individuals in different fields than my own, to the Robert Wood Johnson Pioneering Health podcasts on innovation related to health care to Coffee Break Spanish to keep working on my grammar and Spanish vocabulary.


If you could offer any advice to younger physicians…what would it be?

Healthcare is such a valuable career and the timing now is remarkable. Stay focused on the patient, and work as a team. Be a life-long learner and develop your knowledge holistically throughout your journey.


Who has influenced you the most in the medical world?

My parents have certainly influenced me. My father for how he attended to the whole family with singular attention in a compassionate and intelligent way. He was also such a curious person. He lived well into his 80's and never stopped learning. My mother was always advocating for others and modeled such care and concern for all people. I also had an amazing cast of characters that influenced me throughout my life. I went to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and there I was influenced by Dean Norma Wagner who identified me as a "change agent" and pointed me towards the pursuit of academic medicine by nudging me to apply for the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Fellowship. That would not have even been on my radar if she hadn't pointed me in that direction and that set the course of my path in medicine. I was also impacted during my fellowship at the University of Los Angeles by Dr. Bob Brooke & Dr. Lillian Gelberg to build my skills as a researcher rooted in the real-world. As I moved from my fellowship to my first faculty position, Dr. Mort Wasserman influenced how I asked and answered questions in real-world settings across the country. He directed the Pediatric Research and Office Settings (PROS) Network. It is an organization that reaches 3 million children in primary care offices across the nation. We teamed up and created an intervention for pediatric youth violence prevention in the doctors office.



Getting to Know the Doc:

What was the last book you really got into?

Before We Were Yours, and My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She Was Sorry are two recent books that I really enjoyed.


What are some movies you really enjoyed?

The Green Book was fabulous, and a documentary called Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story was very unexpected.


What amazing adventures have you been on?

I worked on a sheep farm in New Zealand after college. Twenty years later, I was invited back to New Zealand to live there for a time and lead a series of educational seminars with multidisciplinary groups to put science to work for youth violence prevention, based on my research. This included Maori elders, public health nurses, governmental officials, police officers, families, providers, and academics. After my obesity research was published, I was invited to Italy to present my research to the Minister of Health.


Favorite Restaurants in Nashville?

Chahaun Masala & Ale House

City House in Germantown is great and accessible

Pork Belly Farmhouse in Nolensville

404 Kitchen in the Gultch

Peter's Sushi in Brentwood


What music artist do you never get tired of?

Dave Brubeck & Oscar Peterson- classic jazz.



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Publisher, Mark Casey-  mark.casey@medprosmag.com
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