Contemporary OB / GYN® Associate Editor Lindsey Carr sat down with Laura E. Riley, MD, to talk about her interest in editorial board, obstetric infectious diseases, and more. Also, check out Riley’s full interview for the Contemporary OB / GYN® Meet the Board series.
Q: When did your interest in contemporary OB / GYN® begin?
Riley: I should say it started very early in my career, probably junior teacher, maybe. Many years have passed. And one of the things I’ve always liked is that it’s always relevant, which is why it makes you successful.
Q: How would you describe your role as a board member to our readers?
Riley: I’m new to the board and I’ve attended a single meeting, which is fantastic. The role I would like to play is that I would like to give new ideas to help figure out what topics are important to the people who are practicing now. I also wonder if there are ways to spice it up a bit and present the information differently, so that it is appealing to more people than those who are reading now.
Q: What made you decide to pursue getting a gynecologist, specifically high-risk obstetrics?
Riley: This is a long winding answer. There is a long answer meandering to this. I would say that when I got to medical school and in the last two years of medicine, I started thinking, “What is the population of people I can see working with during a long career?” Although I liked medicine and surgery, I didn’t particularly like psychiatry. I thought I was going to be a pediatrician and then I realized, “I’m not so sure I like it either.”
Women’s health really turned out to be the perfect area in the perfect patient population. Overall, I liked the good young and healthy things [that] to pass [and the happy outcomes]. Of course, I ended up going into all the areas that wouldn’t be so happy. Still, this was the main attraction: the ability to give birth to babies and help women and their families and all these happy outcomes. And then I fell into high-risk obstetrics, where he’s not always happy, but you know, 99.9% of the time, he’s happy. It may be bumpy to get there. I find this challenging and even more rewarding.
[As for] the infectious disease part literally fell through due to the time I finished my scholarship. It was the beginning of the HIV epidemic in Boston, so I really got into it. That kind of changed everything. I left Brigham and Women after my high-risk obstetrics scholarship and then got my first job, which was then in Boston City, which is now Boston University. It was here that I made my scholarship for infectious diseases and [where] we started the first HIV clinic for women.
Q: In addition to your experience in the HIV clinic, your experience in infectious diseases has led you to become a member of the COVID-19 working group of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). How do they intersect in your practice?
Riley: When I told my seed chair that I wanted to work on HIV, infectious disease specialists, both pediatrics and infectious disease for adults, said, “No, you need more training.” Jo [thought,’ ‘I just want to get out and practice,’ and they convinced me to do an infectious disease fellowship–which at the time–there wasn’t one that was really focused on Reproductive Medicine. You either did pediatrics or internal medicine, so I ended up doing the internal medicine and about six months of Pediatrics. Once I did that, it really became a super-specialty in a way. And so, all along with my career, I’ve either been doing HIV or group B strep, or recently, things like Ebola [and] Zika, and now COVID-19. Having a specialty within a specialty is mostly what has driven my career.
Pregnancy has a different physiology. [As] infectious diseases are quite common, how they are treated, how they affect pregnant women and things like this can be very different. Having this experience has been kind of what has led me to all of these different areas and collaborations, such as CDC and ACOG.
Q: What do you and your workgroup colleagues expect to see when people start getting vaccinated and get together?
Riley: What we hope to see is that the number of new cases of COVID continues to fall. I think we have had reasonable success in being very transparent with the public. Pregnant women have gone ahead and been vaccinated, which I think is incredibly reasonable, given an ongoing pandemic, and … information suggesting that COVID-19 is actually worse during pregnancy and is associated with worst pregnancy outcomes.
I think the women heard it and also heard the fact that the vaccine has been very successful in reducing the cases. Therefore, this has been the reason to go ahead and basically take advantage of the only preventive strategy that exists. Now, I think a lot of them just keep track of their security data. So far, it seems like there haven’t been any things to worry about, but obviously we need to keep monitoring it.
Q: Does the working group have a plan to update the information, which comes out so often? How does the working group manage it?
Riley: The COVID working group meets every week, that is, how much information is there [and] so fast it changes. The ACOG people who have been there to the knees are also great for keeping up with the literature. Literature comes out fast and furious. I think this is a challenge for professionals if the information comes out so quickly. It is our responsibility to gather this information and present it to our patients and answer the patient’s questions.
The hope has been that the efforts of ACOG’s COVID working group will help exactly other doctors do just that. We welcome the information and as soon as we receive it, we try to understand if it is published, is it real or not? And then put it to frequently asked questions and practice tips and things that people can easily access.
Q: How do you juggle such a busy schedule taking care of other people and making time? What advice would you offer to young people who are just starting out and who want to incorporate health and wellness into their daily routine?
Riley: What I’m telling residents and junior teachers is to be peaceful, right? I think when you start your career, you’re like, “I have a lot to do,” because you finally have the knowledge you’ve been practicing and studying forever. Now, in fact, you’re going to do something. Depending on […] your aspirations: I want to be a chair, I want to be, you know, that, whatever it is, you just have to walk because, you know, life will pass. You don’t want to look so far that you miss what’s going on today.
Plus, you know, medicine is stressful, right? You have as much responsibility for other people’s lives as you do for your own family. I think this is the other reason why time should be taken. COVID was only … a disastrous 14 months, but I would say that what kept my sanity was a Platoon.
You just have to do something meaningless. Some people I know […] they were really worried and worried about their time there. I call myself “whatever.” I just got there and let the music explode and just sweat. And then I feel better. I am convinced that it is important to exercise and that it is important to spend time with family and all those other things we all know.