Heger, M.D., Founder Violence Intervention Program, U. of Southern
California School of Medicine
in career choice: The
major factor in my decision to become a physician was the theme
put forward by my parents that life should involve making choices
that have an impact on individuals and potentially society as
a whole. Medicine presented unique opportunities to be involved
on both fronts.
point: It came after I had my first child while in my senior
year in medical school. Up until that point I had always envisioned
myself in clinical research in an academic environment. However
when Andy was born, I became intrigued by the question of why
children are abused and/or neglected.
After choosing to become a pediatrician who specialized in Child
Abuse—I was faced with a new challenge of establishing standards
for the evaluation and diagnosis of children who had been sexually
abused. The use of photodocumentation in cases of sexual abuse
and sexual assault changed how victims are evaluated, became the
basis for research and established a scientific basis for diagnosis.
When I started in this field children commonly were subject to
having multiple genital examinations in the course of a legal
proceeding. I am most proud of the fact that the new technology
was used to establish case law that prevented children from having
There have been two major hurdles in my career. First was being
a woman in medicine at a time when there were few of us and I
was also a mother of three during my residency. This required
enormous levels of energy as well as careful time and priority
management. Income was not important. Second and probably more
important in my career, was the challenge of making the issue
of violence against both children and women an important priority
in the field of medicine. There is an ongoing differential in
the quality and availability of medical services provided to victims
of family violence and sexual assault, especially women. However,
I found that if I could identify creative funding resources to
establish a service that I was often successful in asking the
local government to fund the program as a permanent entitlement
to the community.
Probably the person who had the greatest influence on my life
was my father. He was a profoundly spiritual man who epitomized
service to others. In medicine I credit Shirley Anderson, a pediatrician
in Seattle, with challenging me to stay in the field of child
abuse, to think creatively and to never compromise patient care
or the quality of scientific research.
Define success not by income, but by how you make your life significant
to others; never settle for average; think outside the box and
practice your craft with a sense of generosity and unselfishness.
Come to the end of your career knowing that you made a difference!
Currently, I am working on a book that tells the stories of children
who have grown up with violence. I realize that they will probably
never be empowered to tell these stories, but I do not want them
to be forgotten. #
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