By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maria Dodson was a teenager when she first came to Riley Hospital for Children for treatment of a heart condition.
Fast forward 12-plus years, and she’s back – this time as Dr. Maria Dodson.
The new pediatric resident joined two dozen other residents with the IU School of Medicine for orientation last week – well on her way to her dream of becoming a physician in a rural healthcare setting.
She didn’t know when she was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome at about age 10 that it would lead her to a career in medicine, but the impact was inescapable.
WPW is a relatively common heart condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally fast for short periods of time. The cause is an extra electrical connection in the heart. The condition is present at birth, although symptoms may not develop until later in life.
For Dodson, symptoms started when she was in middle school in Newburgh, Indiana.
“My heart would go into these really fast rhythms. We made many trips to the ER and saw different cardiologists,” she said.
Lucky for her, she eventually became a patient of Dr. Joyce Hubbard, a pediatric cardiologist with Riley who passed away in 2014. (An endowment and internship in cardiology at Riley is named for Dr. Hubbard.)
When Dodson’s condition worsened a couple of years later, Dr. Hubbard performed two heart ablations at Riley, the first in December 2010, and another in May 2011.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have had her as a surgeon. I haven’t had any problems since,” Dodson said. “It changed my life, and it also opened me to the healthcare field. It showed me this career path.”
That path first led her to the University of Evansville, near her home, where she majored in neuroscience and competed on the golf team. From there, she went to Marian University in Indianapolis for four years of medical school.
She says she stayed open-minded during those clinical years to what kind of medicine she would like to practice but ultimately felt called to pediatric medicine.
“This was the population I wanted to serve,” she said.
As for residency – three years of intense training in a hospital setting – she hoped to come to Riley but tried to manage her expectations.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It’s a very prestigious, competitive program.”
In March, however, she learned she had matched with Riley and couldn’t wait to get started.
She will train to be a general pediatrician and could choose to subspecialize and do a fellowship after residency. But as of now, she plans to be a GP, focused on rural medicine.
“I’d like to stay in Indiana. There’s definitely a need for a generalist in these small, underserved communities,” she said. “I think we can do a lot of good.”
While no one in her immediate family works in healthcare, she says it was her experience at Riley that brought the career path into focus.
“It was incredible the way I was treated at Riley. I thought if I can make someone feel the way I felt during my time here, I would be extremely fulfilled and could make a difference,” she said.
Dodson and her husband, Eric, a mechanical engineer, have made their new home in Brownsburg as she embarks on the latest step in her training as a physician.
“I’m excited to meet my patients. I know it’s going to be a lot of learning, and I’m going to grow a lot, but I know that they are going to change my life,” she said.
“When I think about pediatrics, it’s really treating the whole family, so that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com