Katie Nash: A Change in Focus

Medicine was not Katie Nash’s original plan. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth she majored in history and immersed herself in studying the industrial revolution, the modern welfare state, and the effect of Germany’s air siege on British children during World War II. Her father, who practiced internal medicine, had advised her against being pre-med in college. “He wanted to me to try out other things, to be sure I was making my own decisions,” she says. “He didn’t want medicine to be all I knew.”

Yet she became increasingly fascinated with health care while doing an independent study on the history of public health in the UK. “I came at it interested in the social determinants of health: the larger structures of how individuals interact with the health care system.” She conducted public health research for a nonprofit, Partners in Health, and considered getting an MPH degree.

Dr. Nash's childhood in New York City, where she was very aware of the poverty around her, also nudged her toward medicine. In college she mentored at-risk youth through outdoor activities and a summer academic enrichment program, and those experiences made her realize she wanted to help people one-on-one.  “I want to work with people directly, not indirectly through a computer,” she says.

Throughout her four years at P&S, Dr. Nash volunteered at the Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership (CHHMP), a student-run clinic that provides basic medical care and education to scores of homeless and uninsured.

“It provided a home base academically, but also as a personal support system,” she says. “CHHMP helped me stay true to myself and reminded me constantly about why I decided to become a doctor: to help the most vulnerable populations. CHHMP is medicine in its purist form: no fancy equipment, just the physical exam and endless time to get to know patients and talk about their concerns. This is so rare now. When I’m rushing in the hospital, I think about CHHMP and the value of slowing down, being thorough, and getting to know your patients.”

She also found time at P&S to work on a number of projects investigating poverty and childhood development. Under the tutelage of Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, Dr. Nash helped recruit participants into a pilot program that seeks to determine if small cash supplements provided to poor families can improve neurocognition in their children. “There is already good evidence that there is a correlation between poverty and poorer developmental outcomes, and this study is trying to see, through a randomized clinical trial, if poverty causes these outcomes,” she explains.

All these experiences eventually led Dr. Nash to choose a career in pediatrics. In March she matched to a residency program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center, on an urban health and advocacy track.

“I chose the program so I could have closer contact with faculty and residents who are committed to providing excellent care to the underserved and whose research and interests are also focused on underserved communities,” says Dr. Nash. “I have learned at Columbia that mentorship is key, and I want my mentors at Boston to help me develop a career that has providing care to vulnerable populations at its core.”