Rhodes Alumna and Top Pediatrician Dr. Sally Goza ’80 Addresses Caring for Children During a Crisis

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, medical professionals are finding themselves in uncharted territories on a daily basis. Rhodes alumna Sally Goza M.D., FAAP, of Fayetteville, GA, knows firsthand what these professionals, particularly pediatricians, are coping with. She is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

After graduating from Rhodes College with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1980, Dr. Goza attended the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, followed by an internship and residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. After finishing her training in 1987, she went into practice. Now with a career spanning three decades and extensive leadership in the Georgia chapter of AAP, she took the helm at the national level in January.

Dr. Goza recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions from Rhodes regarding her career, her advocacy for children and their health, and her advice for empowering them though the pandemic.
How many members does AAP have and could you tell us about your role?
Dr. Goza: The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and wellbeing of all infants, children, adolescents and young adults with over 67,000 members that includes pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists, surgical specialists, fellows, residents and medical students. I have the privilege of being the 2020 president, and my responsibilities include being chair of the board of directors and being an advocate for children, families, and the doctors who care for them. I never expected my year at the helm would be dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. We are doing some of the most important work of our careers at this juncture, and I have never been so proud of my AAP colleagues as I am today.
How is AAP helping clinicians understand how to talk to and support children during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Goza: The AAP has been very busy in the last two months with creating resources for pediatricians and for parents about COVID-19. We have two websites for families—healthychildren.org and healthychildren en espanol—where we share information on how to talk to and support children during this crisis.

How can parents protect their children’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Goza: We know children of different ages need to have the pandemic explained at their respective level of understanding. Young children need to know you are there for them and that you are going to protect them. They also have probably heard about the virus, and it is important to explain to them what it is all about. Having that knowledge is important for children to feel safe. Playing games about washing hands and connecting with family that you cannot spend time with is a great way to let your children feel some control over their world that has been turned upside down. Sticking to routines or setting some new ones is also helpful for all children. For adolescents, it is critical to make sure that what they are reading and seeing on social media is good information. They, too, need to know you will do everything you can to keep them safe. We suggest asking them what they think and how they are feeling. Maintaining routines and letting them spend time connecting with friends virtually is also very important.

How can parents address their children who are showing signs of anxiety as a result of what they are hearing about COVID-19?

Dr. Goza:  If parents suspect anxiety or depression in their children, they need to reach out to their pediatricians. We are there to address this. Of course, with as much time as families are spending together and all the stresses that we are all dealing with, we need to make sure that all parties involved can take time outs. Yes, even parents sometimes need a time out. For younger children, and even sometimes adolescents, anxiety can present as acting out, and so if your child is not acting like themselves, remember that can be the anxiety showing itself; so be sure to be patient and address the possibility.

How are telehealth services now playing a role, if any, in children’s health?

Dr. Goza: Most pediatricians have been very quick to adapt their practices to accommodate appointments by telehealth. This can be for some sick visits, follow-up visits, and for mental health issues. Some practices where the spread of COVID-19 is high are doing well visits via telehealth during the crisis.

To make a difference in children’s lives, why is it important for pediatricians to take a look outside the exam room?

Dr. Goza: We have a crisis within a crisis. Because a crisis such as COVID-19 creates and deepens inequities in society, it is more important than ever that we prioritize equity and make sure we reach families and children who need us the most. We must continue to advocate to address the social determinants or influencers of health, which we know set the trajectory of a child’s life. These are all the things that happen outside of the exam room, and pediatricians know we must find each family’s strengths and build on those to ameliorate the things that will negatively impact their lives.
You’ve said that you take inspiration from the phrase, “The children sent me.” What do these words mean to you?

Dr. Goza:  All children should have a safe, stable, nurturing home, the ability to have food to prevent hunger, the right to live without the fear of abuse, access to a good education and the love of a supportive family. These are the things that make me say, “The children sent me.” Children have no voice with policymakers at the local, state, or national level, and we as the doctors who take care of them must be that voice. I am nonpartisan, but unabashedly and unequivocally pro-child.  You can just ask the legislators I have interacted with.

Any last comments?

Dr. Goza: My years at Rhodes and in medical school made me look past my sheltered upbringing and realize that not everyone has the same opportunities in life. Sometimes terrible events can cause positive change. My fervent hope is that when we get to the other side of this crisis that our nation emerges with a shared dedication to pursuing the greater good rather than the convenience of the individual and a universal commitment to ensuring optimal health for all people.