Tina Cheng, MD, MPH, Is Ready to Roll
Pediatric Chair and Research Foundation Director Starts November 2
When Tina Cheng was growing up in Coralville, Iowa, her parents kept a memory book, called “School Days.” In it they recorded the names of Cheng’s teachers and pasted photos and report cards for each academic year from kindergarten to fifth grade.
There was also space to answer the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The book provided some prompts—“fireman, policeman, astronaut, cowboy, soldier or baseball player” for boys; and “mother, nurse, schoolteacher, airline hostess, model and secretary” for girls. Each year, Cheng ignored the suggestions and wrote “doctor."
In one word, Cheng quietly refused to be pigeon-holed.
Cheng’s independent spirit was nurtured by her mother, a kindergarten teacher, and her father, a biochemist.
“My mother was quite progressive in her day as an immigrant to this country and as a strong woman and mother of three daughters. She was a real role model. I was also fortunate to have great mentors along the way who were extremely supportive,” she says.
Cheng’s unwavering vision has served her well throughout a distinguished career as a pediatrician, researcher and leader, most recently as director of the department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Pediatrician-in-Chief of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Charlotte Bloomberg Children’s Center.
During the early years of her career, she served on many committees within the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), often as the only woman, and she helped found the AAP’s resident section.
A Closer Look
In her role as director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation, chief medical officer and the ninth B.K. Rachford Chair of Pediatrics, Cheng will have an opportunity to shape the future of our institution for years to come. Here’s what you might want to know about her:
- She is passionate about improving the health of children, adolescents and families. “Ensuring that children are healthy and ready to learn puts them on a trajectory to be productive adults,” says Cheng. “It’s the foundation for improving adult and intergenerational health.”
- She is a strong advocate for high-impact research and innovative care. “Discussion about the future of medicine often centers on the four Ps—predictive, preemptive, participatory and personalized care," she explains. "I have written about the fifth P—Pediatrics, because we have the capacity to know an individual’s genome early in the life course and have the greatest potential to intervene.”
- She is a servant leader. “I really believe in developing the talent of the team so we can achieve the health and well-being of children and families,” she says. “This requires good communication, collaboration and having a high-functioning, diverse, inclusive and inspired team.”
- She’s a big-picture person. “I like to think of the history of how we got here and where we’re going,” she says. “Along with being strong communicators, we need to be as transparent as possible and have real metrics on how to get the work done and make sure it’s done well.”
- She is committed to diversity. “Diversity is fundamental and enriches all of us. It’s part of health equity, which has been my area of scholarship throughout my career,” she explains. “There have to be strong pipelines early on to make sure people have more opportunities for great jobs. Having a diverse faculty starts with opportunities and support of training before and throughout medical school, residency and fellowship programs.”
- She values the partnership with community physicians. “If we’re going to provide great care to kids, we need to be strongly connected with community primary care clinicians and specialists,” she says. “We’re taking care of their patients and working as a team to provide the best care. Across the spectrum—inpatient, outpatient, post-acute care and home care—we need to make sure we’re on the same page and communicating well. I am a primary care physician myself, and I don’t think I could ever give that up. I love seeing patients, working with trainees and having a generalist and community perspective.”
- She’s instilled a passion for service in her own children. Cheng and her husband have two grown children—a son, who until the COVID-19 pandemic, was in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and recently started a new job as a legal assistant for migrant and refugee children; and a daughter, who is a third-year medical student.
Adjusting to COVID
Cheng recognizes that COVID-19 has changed the healthcare landscape, particularly in regard to clinical care, research, trainee education, the way we do business and the needs of patients and families.
“Fortunately, children aren’t experiencing the same acute morbidity and mortality that adults are with the disease, but it’s certainly affecting families,” she says. “And we are still learning about things, like Multi-Symptom Inflammatory Syndrome that affects kids as a late manifestation of COVID infection. The economic impact has resulted in increased unemployment, greater strain on the Medicaid budget, widening health disparities, mental stress, and more instances of domestic violence and child abuse.”
Care is also compromised as families feel less comfortable bringing their children in for checkups, which is reflected in a significant drop in immunization rates.
“The last thing we need is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness on top of the COVID pandemic,” she says.
Telemedicine is an important part of the future, she believes, and being innovative in how we use digital health tools will be important to our vision of being a leader in improving child health.
“Cincinnati Children’s greatest strength is its people, whom I’m looking forward to meeting and getting to know,” she says. “It’s a place of excellence in clinical care, research and education, which is widely known in the pediatric community. We have a real commitment to the community and changing the outcome for kids through strong basic, clinical and translational research. That’s what attracted me to come here. I want to work with people who are as passionate about changing the outcome for kids as I am.”