Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt delivers high-quality care, creates a welcoming environment for parents and children, and serves as a resource for the surrounding community. None of these things would be possible without the people who make up Children’s Hospital — from the physicians and nurses who provide care for sick children to child life specialists, social workers, pharmacists and more. This wide array of expertise means Children’s Hospital is equipped to handle any issue a child may face — no matter how complex.
Chetan Mukundan, MD, FAAP
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, local pediatrician Chetan Mukundan, MD, FAAP, became one of the first individuals in Tennessee to test positive for the virus.
While this was understandably stressful, it put him in a unique position to better meet the needs of both patients and his practice. And his feeling that pediatric practices are one big family, and not competitors, was underscored by countless messages of concern from his colleagues.
The experience also reminded him of the importance of taking time out for little things that support a well-balanced life, such as enjoying a long beach weekend with his wife, Celeste, and their three grown children – Chathan, Chloe and Luke – or taking their beloved French bulldog, Brie, for a walk at Radnor Lake.
“I was not very sick, and it ended up being a blessing, although I didn’t think so at the time,” he said. “I had the antibodies really up to the point where I got my first vaccine in December 2020.”
Because of his early-acquired immunity, he has been able to safeguard others at his Green Hills office by doing patients’ COVID-19 swab tests himself. When one patient tested positive, rather than having the practice inundated with anxious classmates who were also his patients, Mukundan conducted “Swabapalooza,” a drive-up testing event in the affected school’s parking lot.
“The kids loved it!” he laughed. “Parents decorated their cars, and the kids stayed inside vehicles as I swabbed them. Thankfully, nobody was positive. One of the things I love most about my job is that we have the control to do what we know will be best for our patients and their families. This was something we could do because we’re always looking at the big picture of how we can make our health care system better.”
A remote appointment check-in that allows families to bypass the waiting room led to another practice improvement. An office renovation halted during the pandemic was redrawn with a smaller waiting area, with that space reclaimed for an additional exam room.
Mukundan has practiced pediatrics in Nashville since 1997, and in 2006, he joined Heritage Medical Associates, one of the largest independent, multispecialty physician groups in Middle Tennessee. He’s a proud “Triple ’Dore;” he attended Vanderbilt University (VU) for his undergraduate and medical school years, and he has a son attending VU as an undergraduate.
Today, he works alongside one of his medical school mentors, Bob Mallard, MD, and that relationship has fueled his own commitment to mentoring young doctors and medical students. Mukundan regularly participates in VU’s Residency Career Day, sharing the nuances of private pediatric practice.
Mukundan also enjoys rounding on his patients whenever they’re inpatients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and appreciates the collaborative spirit as everyone works together to provide the best possible care for them.
Eunice Huang, MD, FACS, FAAP
When Eunice Huang, MD, FACS, FAAP, associate surgeon-in-chief for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, moved to Nashville in 2020, her expertise in quality improvement and biomedical informatics landed her a lengthy list of clinical and institutional leadership roles that brightly painted her workday calendar.
In fact, Jeffrey Upperman, MD, surgeon-in-chief for Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatric Surgery, recruited her for the new role of chief surgical quality and innovations officer. In this position, she’s assembled a team of physicians, nurses and others from all pediatric surgical services to identify areas for improve- ment, generate solutions, then apply the resources needed to move solutions into practice.
“A surgeon spends many hours just taking care of patients,” she explained. “If they notice an issue, they often don’t have time to consider the many elements needed to reach a solution. Because we have more than 10 surgical specialties here with many moving parts and different workflows, having a central team that is knowledgeable about the uniqueness and challenges of the space allows us to make quality improvements faster and more effectively.”
Huang, previously a professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine as well as chief research biomedical informatics officer and surgeon at a Memphis children’s hospital, has a particular interest in caring for patients with Hirschsprung’s disease and anorectal malformations.
One of her goals is to further harness the virtual connectivity that was invaluable during the pandemic for these patients, by developing an app to track a child’s progress after they leave the hospital or clinic. Information would be automatically shared with their care team.
“These children often still have some bowel dysfunction,” she said. “You have to help them as they go through the different developmental stages so they hit each milestone properly. By using technology to better communicate progress, if they’re having a problem, we could catch that earlier and manage it as an outpatient.”
While technology has been great for maintaining some vital connections, Huang said a key thing she’s learned from the pandemic is that we all crave in-person interaction — even something as simple as a quick check-in with a colleague.
Especially precious to her are the weekends she spends with her three sons and husband, Raymond Gardocki, MD, a minimally invasive spine surgeon at VUMC. Their sons share her passion for playing the piano, and the family has recently been cooking traditional Chinese dishes together. Huang also plans outdoor adventures for her family such as a recent whitewater rafting/camping excursion along the Colorado River.