Dr Beth Medford: Caring for tiny hearts
Dr. Beth Medford always assumed anything was possible. The optimist’s
quote in her high school yearbook was, “Never give up on a dream.
Anything is possible.”
It is this mantra that not only inspired Medford to become a pediatrician
but to further her education and become a pediatric cardiologist. In June
2014, Medford took a job at Prevea Health in Green Bay, making her the only female pediatric cardiologist residing and working full-time in Northeast Wisconsin.
Calling Green Bay home
Medford is from Fairbanks, Alaska, which happens to be referred to as the “heart of Alaska” — so appropriate given her chosen profession.
Growing up, Medford explains she didn’t know any female doctors. It
wasn’t a profession she considered, until meeting her now mother-in-law.
“I think everything in life is a sequence of little steps — I just kept taking those steps,” says Medford. “When I was younger, I looked at doctors as these amazing people who were brilliant and special in some way, but they aren’t. They just kept taking the steps. Anyone can do it if they want to.”
She completed her undergraduate degree in Alaska, attended medical school in Portland, Oregon, studied to be a pediatrician in San Diego and practiced pediatrics in Alaska from 2005 to 2011.
Medford explains practicing pediatrics in Alaska is different than in other communities. Without hospitalists, neonatologists or specialists down
the hall, pediatricians do everything they can to care for sick babies and children. When necessary, Medford would call up a specialist to discuss a unique medical situation.
“By the time I came to apply for fellowship I was comfortable. I liked pediatrics a lot but in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to be a cardiologist,” she adds.
Medford did her fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. When she finished her fellowship she intended to move back to Alaska, but she was courted to come to Green Bay.
Medford admits she originally had no interest in moving to the Midwest. While at a career fair, Dolly Willems, physician recruiter for Prevea Health, tried luring Medford and her family to Green Bay for a visit.
After a little convincing, Medford and her husband, Scott, reluctantly traveled to Wisconsin. Here she met Dr. Karla Roth, family medicine practitioner for Prevea Health, and immediately made a connection. Medford also liked the pediatricians she met, but what clinched it for the
Medfords was when they arrived for dinner one evening and Scott was dressed in the same casual khakis and polo as Dr. Cousineau, the
pediatric cardiologist she would be working closely with.
“It seemed like we were given several signs,” adds Medford. “We decided to take a chance so here we are.”
While her boys, Jason, 9, and Zachary, 7, wanted to move back to Alaska, they have since settled in their new home. “When we got here Zachary asked how long we would be here. I told him until he goes away to college and that was all he needed. They are both perfectly happy,” adds Medford.
Scott is a stay-at-home dad, providing stability for the boys and supporting Medford, including delivering coffee when she runs quickly out the door in the morning.
Impact on the region
Anyone that has ever had a very sick child will tell you the value of having experts close to home. With limited pediatric cardiologists in the area, many patients have traveled to Appleton or Milwaukee to receive care. Medford and her fellow Prevea Health pediatric cardiologist,
Dr. Cousineau, are serving Northeast Wisconsin from their Green Bay clinic.
Medford spends the majority of her time in the clinic. She sees patients complaining of chest pain, does echocardiograms on patients
to diagnose pediatric heart conditions, checks children with congenital heart defects and answers calls from pediatricians. “As a previous
pediatrician, I recognize how valuable it is to have a specialist on the phone,” she adds.
Most days Medford works from 8 to 5, although she is on call every other week. While Medford loves the intricacies of the heart, she finds great satisfaction in working with families.
“The most rewarding part of my job is dealing with the families. Anytime they come in and it has to do with the heart they are worried.
I love that the majority of the time I can tell them everything is fine,” she says.
Medford explains when children come in with chest pain it is often musculoskeletal. When heart murmurs are heard, she can do an echo
and usually give families an answer before they leave the office.
She adds, “I love being able to reassure families. And, if there is something wrong, I like helping them work through it.”
When asked about the most challenging part of her job, Medford reveals it’s the learning curve — the newness of being a pediatric cardiologist. Seeing young patients with health issues often tugs at her heart, especially since becoming a mom.
“I’m a totally different doctor since having my own kids. You just understand. I hug my kids closer at night and am so thankful but what I
like about pediatric cardiology, just like general pediatrics, is that kids are so resilient. It’s often harder on the parents than the kids,” says
Medford and her family are slowly adjusting to their daily routine. They’ve been exploring Green Bay and right now are focused on getting the boys involved. They’ve joined Boy Scouts, played soccer last summer and signed up for taekwondo lessons. Medford explains she promised her husband she wouldn’t join any boards for a year.
“It’s easy to get carried away and pretty soon you are doing something every night, but that is kind of in my nature,” she adds.
When asked to predict what the future look like, Medford imagines herself right here. “I think all of my life has been waiting for the next thing, and the next thing and the next thing, but I feel like this is it for me,” she says. “In the next five to 10 years I’d like to be comfortable, sitting at my desk, meeting new patients and following the patients I’m meeting right now. I don’t have any big plans for training or moves. I really feel at home here.”