For Dr. Nicole Chandler, Operational Success

Nicole Chandler, M.D., division chief of pediatric surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, talks about what drew her to medicine, why she chose pediatric surgery, and how the program continues to grow.

Dr. Nicole Chandler with a young patient at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Nicole Chandler, M.D., was finishing her pediatric surgery fellowship training at The Johns Hopkins Hospital when she got a tip about a job.

Paul Danielson, M.D., had gotten to know Chandler and her work at the University of Massachusetts where he was director of pediatric surgical oncology and she did her general surgery residency training. Danielson was applying for a job at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and he told Chandler the hospital had an additional opening. They both joined the medical staff in 2008.

“The only person I knew here at the time was Dr. Danielson,” she says. “He told me they were recruiting more than one surgeon. When I came down, I really liked the area, the people, and I liked the philosophy and the mission of the hospital.”

Now, Danielson is the chair of the Department of Surgery and Chandler is the division chief of pediatric surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Chandler spent a few minutes recently discussing how she got into medicine, her Hannah Montana diversion and her hockey-playing days.

What’s something people might find surprising about you?

People are always somewhat surprised to find out that I played club-level ice hockey in college. I went to College of the Holy Cross, and I wanted to participate in something that was non-academic. I had some good friends at the time who were ice hockey players who encouraged me to do it. They helped me go find my first pair of ice skates, and I learned to skate.

So, you learned to skate when you went to college and played competitive hockey?

It wasn’t very competitive.

Did you always want to be a doctor?

I think being a doctor was the first profession that I sort of really landed on. I really liked science, and I really liked the idea of helping people. I was always just really kind of drawn to that.

How did you choose pediatric surgery?

It was sort of a happy accident. I had initially planned to go into surgical oncology and was actually excited for the time I spent on pediatric surgery because it was going to be a little bit of a mental break for me. But I really enjoyed the rotation. I really liked the variety and that some kids got better, faster, so they could soon get back to playing. It is very satisfying seeing the parents watching their children recover.

You’ve done research related to gender inequality in the surgical field. Tell us about that.

I had come across a research article looking at how men are described and how women are described, particularly in academia, not necessarily medicine or surgery but in academia in general. It piqued my interest. I thought it was a really interesting description of how men and women are described differently. I used some of that background research to look at how applicants for pediatric surgery training are described and to see if there are any differences based on gender. Once we completed that project, we then applied the same principles to see if there are any differences based on race, which I think is really timely.

What are some of the things you found?

There are definitely differences. We're at the stage now where we can't actually prove causation or what the impact of that is, but there are definitely differences based on gender and race. We’re using this data to see how we can decrease implicit bias. Moving forward we are looking at both how the authors wrote the letter as well as how that information is received by the reader of the letter and how can we decrease our bias. We’re working with the data analytics and machine learning folks to try to develop a system to interpret the letters and taking those biases and those differences out of the letters.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s has been pretty successful with female surgeons with you, Dr. Raquel Gonzalez, several recent surgical fellows. Is that a point of emphasis?

There's definitely data out there to show that diversity is important. We know that having people from different backgrounds builds stronger teams. While we're doing that intentionally, we still want the strongest candidates possible for those positions. We require that all the faculty who interview our applicants for fellowship take training in recognizing implicit bias. We also seek to make sure that the job applicants we interview are from diverse backgrounds.

You recently were named division chief for pediatric surgery. What is that job? What do you do?

The division chief means that I'm responsible for the quality of care and the conduct of medical activities that go on within our division. I'm ultimately responsible for the quality of care provided by our group. Along with that, I plan for how we’re going to expand and grow — a vision for the future. 

Do you have specific areas you hope to grow?

Based on the success the Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH) and Esophageal and Airway Treatment Service (EATS) programs, we’re looking at developing additional specialty niches within pediatric surgery.

What do you do to take your mind off work?

My husband and I have a daughter who’s 8 years old. So, a lot of my time out of the hospital is spending quality time with her. I enjoy playing with her and taking her to her activities. I enjoy watching her learn new things. That’s where the majority of my time these days goes.

Favorite TV show?

Again, it’s mostly with my daughter. We just finished the Hannah Montana series.