Jodi Abbott is the Assistant Dean for Patient Safety and Quality Improvement at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Maternal Fetal Medicine Vice Chair for the Education Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
1. In layman’s terms, explain what you do:
For many years, I took care of women after they suffered miscarriages or newborn death, most due to prematurity. I liked helping women by identifying how to help them have a safe pregnancy after their losses, and I cared for them during their pregnancies afterward. Most had healthy babies. About 10 years ago I got frustrated that many of these losses might be preventable, and I decided to focus the rest of my career on preventing pregnancy loss and teaching healthcare teams how to prevent these losses. When you prevent something, it’s hard to look at a specific patient and know “that’s her – she’s the one who would have lost her baby”. When you look at all the patients together before and after and know that fewer babies were lost or premature. When I was 50, I went back to school for a Masters to learn how to do this most effectively. I have been able to work with other states to help them prevent preterm birth and have started working with the March of Dimes to try to have an impact on women across the US.
Right now have 3 jobs: First, I take care of women with high risk pregnancies, often because they have experienced a fetal death or extreme preterm birth, and perform prenatal ultrasounds. Second, I teach medical students about Ob/Gyn. Third, I develop programs to reduce preterm birth and teach medical students Patient Safety and Quality Improvement.
2. Why did you become a doctor?
Even before I was a doctor, I was a feminist and wanted to find a way to help women be empowered in their health. I decided to go to medical school to have the chance to have a personal impact on someone’s health. This is why I decided to be an Ob/Gyn later.
3. What is your favorite aspect of your work?
I have always loved taking care of my patients, and having the opportunity to deliver babies really felt like an amazing gift. Pulling a living human out of another living human! How cool is that? I don’t do that anymore though. I help my patients in other ways now, and give them confidence in their health and ability to become Mothers. I also really love teaching; I learn so much from my students and helping them achieve their dreams means there is more of me to go around.
4. What does being a scientist mean to you?
First, it’s about understanding the incredible way the human body is designed in health, and how it fails at times. To me now, it’s about having the tools to learn how to implement evidence proven effective care to diverse populations, particularly an underserved population with health inequities, such as exist all over the United States for Black and Latina women.
5. What has been your greatest disappointment, and what have you learned from it?
Since my failures have turned into opportunities, I hate to call them that, but I initially thought if I was a really great doctor I could protect my patients from bad outcomes. I learned that healthy outcomes require an entire team, and that I could have more impact focusing on teaching medical students who will go into every specialty, than only future Ob/Gyn-s. When I couldn’t deliver babies anymore I really questioned what I would do next, but I wouldn’t have started working to improve care for a population of underserved Women if I hadn’t stopped delivering babies.
6. What has been your greatest achievement in your career?
Being part of a team that help reduce Boston’s infant mortality for Black women to the lowest of any city in the US
7. What has been the biggest change you have witnessed in your field of science?
Two things: the first is that when I started in medicine research was mostly about lab research (now called T1 knowledge), next in prestige were clinical trials applying knowledge from basic science (now T2 knowledge) recently implementation science (T3) has been developed to get the evidence proven interventions to everyone who will benefit. That is what I do. The second change is how much more time it takes to document everything we do in healthcare- it’s estimated only 1/3 of healthcare is with patient’s, 1/3 with the team, and 1/3 documenting in the electronic health record.
8. What problem would you most like to see solved by science in the next 10 years?
Health inequities due to race and poverty.
9. What motivates you?
I think I am motivated most by a deep sense of using health care to reduce health inequity, I think every woman/family deserves healthy children.
10. How do you define success?
I think that living a life with meaning is success.
11. What one discovery in science do you most admire and why?
Paul Farmer and Jim Young Kim’s (Partners in Health) demonstration that community health workers can improve the health of the world’s most disadvantaged people in the poorest countries gave us our best chance to improve the health of underserved Americans.
12. What are the greatest challenges facing humans today?
Intolerance and fear of difference has led to our inability to prioritize the American values of acceptance, equality and humanity as human rights.
13. What one book do you recommend everyone read?
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
14. What is your favorite film?
The Color Purple
7. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
You can create any kind of life you want as a doctor and a woman and a Mom (as soon as you finish your training)!
8. If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would you choose?
Melinda Gates, I would convince her to fund my dream program to teach college grads to be community health workers for 2 years after college.
17. If you could go back in time what advice would you give your high school self?
The things that make you unique are more important than acing standardized tests.
18. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful doctor?
19. How has your gender shaped your experience as a doctor?
I grew up privileged in many ways, my parents went to college and my Dad was a professor. I am also from a family of girls. When I was young, and I was really young – I started med school at 20 – I had a lot of trouble being taken seriously. Being a woman made it harder. Luckily persistence is a trait I was born with. I really loved performing surgery and thought about being a surgeon. The surgeons I worked with* were really mean to the students and the team in the operating room, they kept up a constant stream of insults toward the O.R. nurses who were Black. Although I felt that I could go into surgery and survive, I felt like I would have to put on an armor that could grow around me so tight I might not be able to get it off by the time I finished training. I decided to go into Ob/Gyn. In my work, being empathetic and truthful is more important than being a woman, but I love my patients and they know trust me with their care.
*Not all surgeons are like this. I work with some AMAZING surgeons with true humanity and sense of mission Tracy Dechert is one!
20. What question did I not ask you that you want to answer and share with the readers?
The hardest part of becoming a doctor is deciding that you want to go to medical school. Enough that you give up other things like time with family, friends, and other cool stuff in high school and college so you can get through organic chemistry!
If you have any more questions, or would like to reach out to Dr. Abbott, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org