There’s no life like it: MCH physician researchers share the joy of their dual calling

By Christine Zeindler
From looking at cells through a microscope to scoping a toddler’s throat, physician researchers cover all facets of medicine. Their work, whether it’s in the lab or clinic, bridges the gap between patient care and research.

Once bitten, the research bug hasn’t let go.
“I actually didn’t know that I was going to enjoy research as much as I do, because I love looking after patients,” says Dr. Indra Gupta, a MCH pediatric nephrologist (kidney specialist). “During my training I was given the opportunity to work in the lab for a couple of months and after that experience, I made a commitment to a fulltime research fellowship. Once there I was really surprised, how interesting I found it. I saw an opportunity to take small steps to try to understand how kidney malformations occur. Bringing this information back to the bedside is the ultimate goal.”
Research success is something Dr. Bruce Mazer, head of the MCH Allergy and Immunology Department, knows about. He has been able to control asthma in animal models using immune therapy (using antibodies to decrease the symptoms). “We have been approached by both industry and by some clinicians to use this method to treat severe asthmatics. Seeing these findings translate into potential therapies is very rewarding.”
“I believe if there is research without a clinical reference, it may be difficult to focus,” says Dr. Pia Wintermark, a MCH neonatologist (baby specialist). “It is very useful to go back to clinic and say, “Ah ha, I remember why I’m doing this.” Furthermore, clinical cases present with many unanswered questions. It is satisfying that a few of these may be answered with research findings.”
All three researchers admit that juggling these domains is difficult yet, for them, doing one without the other is not an option.
“The reason why this has worked for me so far is that I get so much out of each,” says Dr. Gupta. “When I move between my clinical responsibilities and my research, I get something back from each of them that rejuvenates me whether I return to the research domain or back to the clinical domain.”
“It is very important for me to have both of them in my life,” says Dr. Wintermark. “I would not choose one over the other.”

Family and institutional support is vital
Combining research with clinical practice is demanding - family and work environments play crucial roles in the success of these physician researchers. All three indicated that support and understanding from families and from the MCH and the MCH Research Institute has been a key to their success.
“It is always nice to have family and friends that support you and all the work that you do,” says Dr. Wintermark. “I have also benefitted from the support of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, including the other attending physicians and the nursing staff. You cannot be in your own corner, team work is essential.”
“You can’t work in a vacuum,” agrees Dr. Mazer. “The camaraderie and the synergy you get by working with others are extremely important.”
“Without the encouragement and assistance from my husband, kids, extended family, and wonderful colleagues in the division of nephrology, I don’t think I would get anywhere,” adds Dr. Gupta.
“I also get enormous support from the Research Institute at various levels, from the administrative staff to the Technical Director to people who run the core facilities. The other thing we are very fortunate to have is access to peer review for our research grants. They are always reviewed internally, before we send them out. This critique is incredibly helpful.”

The meek need not apply
This career path is not for the meek or unambitious, it requires dedication and perseverance.
“It is well worth it but it takes a lot of stamina and we have to have pretty thick skinned to weather all the ups and downs,” says Dr. Gupta.
“You really have to be at the top of your game,” adds Dr. Mazer.
“It is a great job,” says Dr. Wintermark. “I haven’t looked back since I made this commitment.”
In summary, there is no life like it.