I like the patients of Iowa. The parents tend to be invested in their children, they care about their children and listen to what you recommend and implement it. That’s very important.
Meet Polly Ferguson, MD
Polly Ferguson, MD, is director of the division of pediatric rheumatology at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. She attended the UI for her undergraduate education and graduated from the UI Carver College of Medicine. A native of Iowa, she joined UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital in 2002 after working at hospitals in Virginia and Alabama.
When and why did you decide to become a doctor?
I decided when I was a teenager. I had a rheumatic disease called vasculitis, and at the time, I was taken care of by a really good doctor. That’s when I realized how important good doctors were.
Jack Spevak was a hematology/oncology doctor who got me interested in medicine. He was extremely smart and took care of me when I was 13. I missed a whole year of school, was in a wheelchair, and couldn’t walk. The disease that affected me causes inflammation of medium-sized blood vessels. I also had compression fractures, which were very painful. I recovered and was able to walk and attend high school, although I had a relapse of vasculitis in college.
How did you choose pediatrics and your specialty?
I was interested in rheumatology because of my personal history. In medical school, I liked a lot of specialties, especially those that allowed me to be very involved in patient care. In the end, I chose pediatrics because I decided kids were more fun than adults. Part of being an adult means you lose some of your spunk, but kids still have that spunk.
What types of conditions do pediatric rheumatologists treat?
We treat juvenile idiopathic arthritis and a lot of diseases, such as scleroderma [a connective tissue disorder] and lupus. Fifteen to 20 percent of lupus occurs in children. We also work with kids who have uveitis [eye inflammation]; we help manage their medications with ophthalmology. My specialty is chronic recurrent multifocal osteomyelitis (CRMO).
Tell us about your research.
Broadly, I’m trying to understand the genetic predisposition of inflammatory disorders. My focus is on CRMO. It’s rare and pretty highly associated with psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory arthritis. The thought was that if we could figure out the genetics of rare diseases, we could figure out the pathways of other more common diseases. Once we figure out the pathways, we’ll ask if there is a medication that can help. If there isn’t, we will ask, “Can we develop a new medication that can inhibit the pathway?”
Sandy Hong, MD, and I have been participating in studies conducted at hospitals that are members of the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). Participants are involved in a comparative effectiveness study on the treatment of juvenile localized scleroderma and juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The studies will help us determine the effectiveness and benefits of treatment. We are also working towards developing a comparative effectiveness study on CRMO.
How does research make a difference to patients?
Research has transformed the outcomes for rheumatological diseases. In the 1950s, children with arthritis were in wheelchairs. In the 1980s, they could participate in many activities, although not fully in sports. Now their lives are dramatically different. Many can participate in sports.
What is the best part about your job?
It allows you to be creative and to think every day. I don’t do the same thing every day; everything is novel. I tell people my job is like solving puzzles. Sometimes you solve a big one; other times you are just putting little pieces in. Another thing I like about my job is mentoring junior faculty members, especially those who want to be physician/scientists.
What are you looking forward to about our new children’s hospital?
Everyone working in that building will be interacting with children all of the time, and that makes a difference. It’s always great to have a state-of-the-art facility. It helps you recruit the best physicians. I think it’s also allowed us to focus on pediatric medicine philanthropy in a way that we weren’t doing before. Philanthropy helps drive a lot of projects that otherwise couldn’t be done.
MD, University of Iowa, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa
Pediatrics, University of Virginia Affiliates Hospitals, Charlottesville, Va.
Pediatric Rheumatology and Immunology, University of Virginia Affiliates Hospitals, Charlottesville, Va.
The number of stars is an average of all responses to provider-related questions from Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys. Responses are measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score. About our ratings.