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New board member: Dr. Houck, a pediatric surgical specialist, lauded for leadership, skills :

January 28, 2020

Constance Houck, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, is a pediatric anesthesiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, where she has worked for nearly three decades.

Amid the Space Race in the 1960s, a young Constance Houck fell in love with science and the idea of pushing boundaries.

Her passions were encouraged by her mother, a nurse who earned her degree after having children, and her mother’s co-workers. They believed her interests would dovetail nicely with medicine and encouraged her to become a doctor, even though many people still considered it a profession better suited for men. The nurses — some of whom didn’t go to medical schools because of societal constraints — thought Constance represented a new world.

“They didn’t feel like that opportunity was open to them in their time, but it was open to me,” she said. “On the other hand, I had a high school counselor say to me that medicine wasn’t a good field to go into for women. Those comments made me want to become a doctor even more.”

After becoming a pediatric anesthesiologist more than three decades ago, Constance Houck, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, continues to break barriers. In January, she became the first pediatric surgical specialist at-large member of the AAP Board of Directors.

The four-year elected position is one of three at-large seats added to the board this year, reflecting bylaws passed by AAP members in 2018. The other new seats represent pediatric medical subspecialties and fellows or specialty fellows, respectively. All board members represent the needs of all AAP members when serving on the Board of Directors.

Her addition to the board — which has expanded to 13 members — elated longtime colleagues, who say Dr. Houck can serve as a bridge between general pediatricians and surgical specialists.

Broad perspective

“Dr. Houck leads from the center of the pack. She is thoroughly grounded in the substantive material of her professions, which all relate to the care of children: anesthesia, pain medicine, hospital medicine,” said Michael D. Klein, M.D., FAAP, who chairs the Section Forum Management Committee and preceded Dr. Houck as Surgical Advisory Panel chair. “It should be especially noted that she is a board-certified pediatrician (pediatric anesthesiologist) and (a) hospitalist. She knows the stuff. In addition, she has administrative experience and a conscience. She internalized the goals of the Academy before even joining.”

After graduating from the University of Kansas Medical School in 1983, Dr. Houck decided to specialize in pediatric medicine because her mother often talked about how much fun it was to care for children. She didn’t see herself becoming a primary care pediatrician, though she understood the high burnout for those engaged in pediatric critical care.

Dr. Houck completed both pediatric and anesthesiology residencies before joining Boston Children’s Hospital in 1992. Though she planned to stay in Massachusetts for just a few years, she has been with the hospital for nearly three decades.

Now a pediatric anesthesiologist at Boston Children’s and an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Houck left critical care in 2005. However, she says she continues to benefit from the knowledge she gleaned from the specialty.

“It allows you to have a broad perspective and enriches your life,” she said. “I feel like I’d had a lot more balance than some of my colleagues because of my experiences.”

AAP involvements

Dr. Houck joined the AAP as a resident, having worked with District VI Chair Dennis M. Cooley, M.D., FAAP, and his predecessor Pamela K. Shaw, M.D., FAAP, at the University of Kansas Medical Center. After joining the Section on Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine (SOA) nearly 30 years ago, she has been in leadership positions almost continuously since 1998.

She has chaired the SOA Executive Committee and served as a member of the Committee on Drugs. Since 2015, she has been a member of the Section Forum Management Committee and chair of the Surgical Advisory Panel, the only non-surgeon ever elected to this role.

In the latter role, Dr. Houck frequently was invited to attend AAP board meetings to share her perspective. She believes she serves an important role in helping general pediatricians understand the challenges and insights of their surgical counterparts.

“It’s often hard for pediatricians to know what we do, because we are different, but we all take care of kids. We felt they really don’t have much of an understanding as to what goes on in some of the pediatric specialties,” she said. “I have always felt like I had my feet in both areas, being able to consider the needs of pediatric surgical specialists and the needs of pediatricians. I live in both worlds so I can extend a hand.”

Dr. Houck’s leadership experience and skill set made her the ideal candidate for the board’s first at-large member representing pediatric surgical specialists, her colleagues said.

“She is a pediatrician at her core, greatly respected by her surgical colleagues, has strong leadership skills and a broad knowledge of the AAP, numerous innovative ideas and the highest ethical standards,” said Ann R. Stark, M.D., FAAP, immediate past chair of the Section Forum Management Committee.

In her free time, Dr. Houck enjoys traveling with her husband, Don Haber. They gravitate toward historical places and museums, drawn to the opportunity to learn something new.

They often visit Washington, D.C. — one of their favorite cities — to see their son, Adrian Haber, an engineer who works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“It’s his dream job,” Dr. Houck said. “He jokes that it’s not rocket science. It’s rocket engineering.”

As she forges new professional frontiers of her own, Dr. Houck has not forgotten how she once was discouraged from studying medicine because of her gender. She hopes her example inspires other women to pursue their dreams.

“I'm particularly proud of the fact that I've had a lot of obstacles put in front of me, especially being a woman, and I’ve never given up. I keep moving forward. I dusted myself off and just kept going,” she said. “I hope I am showing women in my department that they can do all of the things that are available.”

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