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Dr. Chung known for innovation, passion in wide-ranging pediatrics career

July 1, 2021

To keep patients updated on their vaccines, Dr. Chung's practice turned a used RV into a mobile office and traveled to families' driveways to administer shots.Six weeks into the pandemic, the numbers were worrisome in Virginia.

The state’s adolescent vaccination rates had plummeted by 76%, and about 30% to 40% of infants had missed shots, according to data from 100 pediatric practices across the commonwealth.

Determined to prevent another public health crisis, Sandy L. Chung, M.D., M.S.H.A., FAAP, decided to — quite literally — take the wheel. Her practice transformed a used RV into a mobile pediatrician’s office and started vaccinating patients in their driveways.

“We wanted to make parents feel that there were safe ways to keep their kids protected, so we got a mobile van and just started driving to people’s houses,” she said. “I enjoy being creative and trying to find solutions.”

Her creativity and problem-solving abilities are among the reasons Dr. Chung accepted the nomination for AAP president-elect at a crucial time in health care. An award-winning pediatrician, Dr. Chung also is an expert in health informatics and technology.

“Being a pediatrician is the best job in the world,” she said. “Pediatricians laugh and have fun all day, the patients are generally healthy and children are super resilient. I also really enjoy counseling patients and their families. For me, pediatrics has always been the best place to be.”

It wasn’t easy to get there, though.

Overcoming challenges

Born in southern Illinois and raised in Virginia, Chung spent her early years living in a trailer park with her parents, who had emigrated from China. They were the first Asian residents in the community.

“There was significant racism that comes along with this,” Dr. Chung said. “I definitely understand the expression ‘being a foreigner in your own country.’”

Her parents had college educations but could only find low-paying jobs. Her mother sewed clothes in a factory, while her father worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant before opening his own place.

The family received Medicaid assistance and food stamps. Dr. Chung vividly recalls helping her parents count the food stamps and feeling happy that she could pitch in.

In the fourth grade, Dr. Chung was assigned a project on what she wanted to be when she grew up. A neighbor, who worked as a nurse, suggested she be a doctor and lent her scrubs, shoe covers, tongue depressors and a stethoscope. The gesture — and the neighbor’s belief in the young girl’s abilities — gave birth to a dream.

“That experience showed me how much you can change a person's life,” Dr. Chung said. “I wanted to have that opportunity and energy to help kids.”

Realizing a dream

After receiving her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Virginia, she attended the university’s medical school. She completed her pediatric residency at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children (now Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital) in Falls Church, Va.

Now in private practice, Dr. Chung also is CEO of Trusted Doctors, a pediatric supergroup in northern Virginia and Maryland with more than 120 clinicians, and president of Fairfax Pediatric Associates. She also serves as medical director of informatics for the Pediatric Health Network at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Chung is clinical assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and University of Virginia. In 2020, she received the Clarence A. Holland Award from the Medical Society of Virginia for outstanding contribution to the community for citizenship and public service as a practicing physician.

She believes her career represents what the American dream can be — with the right support.

“My parents always emphasized how important education was and that education was your way out,” she says. “You need to work hard to break down those walls, but you also need to have that support.”

Impacting pediatrics

To help others break down walls, Dr. Chung has worked tirelessly on pediatric health issues. At the governor’s request, she served as a board member and chair of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, which is dedicated to cessation of tobacco and substance use and reduction of obesity. She is a board member of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, which advances school readiness.

She started and serves as medical director of the Virginia Mental Health Access Program, which provides training for primary care providers, a child psychiatry consult line and care navigation services for families. She also works with the Trauma-Informed Care for Children Working Group, which coordinates efforts across state agencies to foster systems that provide a consistent response to children with adverse experiences.

She has dedicated much of her career to improving information technology and interoperability, including as a board member of Connect Virginia, the statewide health information exchange. She also serves as co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Primary Care to develop payment reform models.

“I feel strongly about having an AAP president that understands information technology and how to use it,” Dr. Chung said.

Dr. Chung became involved with the AAP as a resident and has held leadership roles at the state and national levels. She is immediate-past president of the Virginia Chapter, vice chair of the AAP Council on Clinical Information Technology Executive Committee and a member of the Committee on Child Health Financing and Child Health Improvement through Longitudinal Data Registry Incubator Group.

If elected president, Dr. Chung says she will focus on appropriate payment for pediatricians and health care equity, both in access and opportunity.

“With the AAP, you have the opportunity to help all kids, all pediatricians and all pediatric specialists,” she said. “If I'm AAP president-elect, I want to be there for the members, to be their spokesperson, to elevate and collaborate.”

Dr. Chung and her husband have four children, who are pictured from when they were younger (from left): Kevin, Alex, Sarah and Ryan.

In her free time, Dr. Chung enjoys reading, boating and spending time with her husband and four children. When the kids were younger, she chronicled family life in the blog “Dr. Sandy: Mom First, Pediatrician Second.”

As the pandemic begins to taper, she finds herself doing the same thing she did at its start: vaccinating people. Her practice had given over 9,000 COVID-19 shots as of mid-May.

“We started doing this as a community service,” she said. “And we are so happy we did.”

Voting will take place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8. The winner will serve as AAP president in 2023.

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