Vivek Allada, MD , joins Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he served as Executive Director of the Heart Institute. He joins the Cardiac Center along with his wife, Stacey Drant, MD. At CHOP, Dr. Allada will hold multiple roles in the Cardiac Center and Division of Cardiology, including Medical Director of Outpatient and Community Cardiology, Associate Chief of Cardiology, and Director of Strategic Operations and Senior Medical Director of the Cardiac Center. An expert in non-invasive imaging with a special interest in coronary artery pathology, Dr. Allada has published papers on quality assessment and assurance in pediatric echocardiography laboratories, as well as co-founded and chaired The American Society of Echocardiography's Committee on Pediatric Echocardiography Laboratory Productivity (C-PELP), a group of pediatric echocardiography laboratory directors focused on function and improvement in echo labs.
While he’s busy getting settled in his new roles at CHOP, Dr. Allada took time for an informal discussion about his goals for the Cardiac Center, the challenges he sees ahead and the motto that guides his professional decision-making.
Q. What led you to a career in pediatric cardiology?
A. I was accepted out of high school into a six-year combined undergraduate and medical school program. As a requirement of this program, freshmen spend the summer working with a doctor and a family, and then write a paper about the family’s perspective. My summer experience was in a pediatrician’s office, and the family had a child with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. Although a previous pediatrician had recommended the family give up hope on this child’s care, the family had chosen to pursue surgery, and ultimately ended up establishing their own early intervention program for children with Down syndrome. This was a very gratifying experience, and it led me to decide at age 18 that I would be a pediatric heart doctor.
In addition, my uncle was a pediatrician in Chicago. He bought an old, dilapidated hotel in India where I was born. When I was a medical student, I spent time helping him build a medical clinic in the hotel. At night, we’d work on the building, and during the day, we would see patients. The families were always so grateful, and this was very gratifying. It’s another reason I decided to go into pediatrics.
Q. In your strategic operations role in the Cardiac Center, what initiatives do you hope to focus on?
A. Patient access to care is an important initiative. My role is to ensure that all children have access to great care quickly. If a mom learns that her child has a heart murmur, she won’t sleep until she knows her child is okay. It’s our job to make sure that child is seen quickly.
I also hope to leverage technology — like telemedicine — that has become standard operating procedure during COVID. We can build on what we have with advanced technology, such as blue-tooth enabled stethoscopes, to enhance the capabilities of telemedicine. This kind of technology will also help improve access for cardiology patients.
When it comes to ideas, I like to live at the crossroads between vision and execution, where great ideas find practical solutions. Especially at a place like CHOP where I’ll be surrounded by smart people, there will many great ideas. But even the best ideas can fail due to lack of money, time or other resources. My role will be to not only carry out the visions that I have for the program, but also those of the people around me. My job will be to bring those ideas to reality.
My ultimate goal is to make the patient/family experience at the Cardiac Center something that families can always say they appreciated — even during stressful times. Nobody grows up knowing how to care for a child with heart disease. I feel it’s our job to help them through this challenging time. There’s a personal motto that I always try to live by: “the best care for all children.” I try to come back to this motto in every strategic decision that I make. I believe that if we hold that motto as our north star, we’ll be able to make the best decisions to help children.
Q. What challenges do you foresee?
A. Our biggest and most immediate challenge is COVID-19. The pandemic has put incredible strain on everyone, and it’s particularly challenging because so many patients need our care — COVID patients and non-COVID heart patients. We need to make sure we have the resources to deliver all types of care — from routine care to COVID-related care to emergency heart surgery. Over the past eight months, the Cardiac Center has done an incredible job of making sure that they were able to meet the needs of all patients. As we’re expecting another COVID surge, we’ll need to be fully prepared to provide exceptional cardiac care even as we meet the demands the pandemic causes.
Q. Who are your role models?
A. My uncle is one role model; as a pediatrician, I hope to continue to give back to the community in the way that he has. My other role model is a world-famous cardiologist from UCLA, Roberta Williams, MD. She was a mentor when I was at UCLA [prior to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh], and I often called her my “work mom.” When she moved into a leadership role at UCLA, I took on several of her patients, and I had to work twice as hard to fill her shoes. She really set the standard by which to deliver care and compassion. She’s in her 80s now, and just received a 5-year grant to do more research! I hope I can match her energy and success!
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. I love to cycle with my wife. We’ve been fortunate enough to take cycling trips to Tuscany, Argentina, Hawaii and Croatia.
Q. If you weren’t a cardiologist, what job would you like to have?
A. I love baseball — I love all sports, but I played baseball in junior high school. I was okay, but not that good. If I wasn’t a cardiologist, I’d be a center fielder for the Phillies, but probably not a very good one. At least I can dream!