A Look at a Leader: Samantha Erin Vilano, MD

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A look into Dr. Vilano's career journey and how she ended up at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

As Indiana’s only fellowship trained pediatric and adolescent gynecologist, Samantha Erin Vilano, M.D. has a big job.

As the medical director of pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, Dr. Vilano spends her days helping patients and their families with issues ranging from congenital abnormalities to puberty while working to grow the field of children’s gynecology. It is work that Dr. Vilano loves — but it is not what she had envisioned when she started college.

Originally from outside of Toronto, Dr. Vilano got her undergraduate degree in science from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and then earned her master’s degree in medical and molecular genetics at the University of Toronto.

“I was doing genetics research and I never thought I’d end up in clinical medicine,” she says. But that changed when she was based at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and got a chance to experience daily life in that clinical setting. “I did volunteer work there and I loved seeing the clinical side of things.”

Dr. Vilano decided to pursue that interest and earned her M.D. at Albany Medical College in New York, where she developed a passion for obstetrics and gynecology. She then went to Wayne State University in Detroit for her ob-gyn residency because the school offered a joint program in ob-gyn and medical genetics—Dr. Vilano’s primary interests at the time.

But when that program was cancelled, Dr. Vilano connected with Renee Page, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist interested in pediatric patients there. “It was an up-and-coming field at that time, and I loved going with Dr. Page on the pediatric consults. She was a very warm person and she lit up when she was with the kids—it changed the way I looked at gynecology,” says Dr. Vilano.

Inspired, Dr. Vilano did a two-year fellowship in pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. There, she was able to participate in cutting edge reconstructive gynecologic surgeries that involved multiple specialties such as pediatric surgery and urology. This gave Dr. Vilano excellent training in procedures that physicians don’t typically see in everyday gynecologic practice.

After completing her fellowship, Dr. Vilano visited IU Health and jumped at the chance to come on board in 2012. “I really loved it and there was no pediatric gynecologist here, so as a young physician, it was an opportunity to make a niche for myself and grow the field here,” she says.

Currently, Dr. Vilano sees pediatric patients from birth to age 26 who are facing a variety of conditions including vaginitis, ovarian tumors and heavy periods. She is also helping to launch a center for fertility preservation at Riley Hospital for Children aimed at kids who are undergoing cancer treatment, have autoimmune disorders, or are transgender. The center will enable children to bank ovarian tissue, eggs or sperm/testicular tissue to preserve fertility for later in life.

In clinic, Dr. Vilano takes special care to talk with girls, and always carries a pack of crayons so she can draw visual aids for any patient who needs help understanding her body.

“I can spend an hour with a teenager talking about puberty, relationships, body image, pregnancy-prevention and sexually-transmitted disease prevention—and you don't have time for that in an adult clinic,” says Dr. Vilano. “I also enjoy taking care of kids with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome because when they get their period it’s sometimes hard for them to deal with that behaviorally, emotionally, and functionally at school on top of other developmental issues.”

Dr. Vilano is so enthusiastic about educating girls that she has partnered with Girlology to offer workshops—which take place at Riley—for girls and their parents to discuss puberty, reproduction, healthy relationships, and more. “That is my way of giving back,” says Dr. Vilano, who hopes that the workshops will be a starting point for an ongoing dialogue between kids and their parents. We want girls to continue having conversations at home with their parents. It’s not a one-time conversation, and I think when parents are part of that initial discussion, they feel more comfortable talking about these issues.”

In addition to her community work with Girlology, Dr. Vilano recently lectured for the CARES Foundation, which advocates for children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that has gynecologic implications. She is also on the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists national committee for adolescent health.

Not content to sit on her laurels, Dr. Vilano keeps up her general obstetric and gynecologic surgical skills too (as opposed to focusing only on pediatric gynecology). To that end, she continues to see adult patients, and is on call for Methodist Hospital’s labor and delivery service once a week.

“I still love delivering babies,” she says. She also enjoys teaching, so she supervises medical students and residents in general ob-gyn and for specialized pediatric  rotations, and gives gynecologic lectures to the adolescent medicine residents and fellows at Indiana University.

Free time is in short supply, but Dr. Vilano finds a way to spend quality time with her husband, Darin Vilano, and her two sons, ages 3 years and 9 months respectively. Together, they like cycling and staying physically active.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” says Dr. Vilano.

-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman

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