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Child abuse pediatrician to take mystery out of handling potential abuse cases :

August 15, 2019

Editor's note:The 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Oct. 25-29 in New Orleans.

When asked how she became interested in child abuse pediatrics, Verena W. Brown, M.D., said, “It kind of found me.”

Various experiences during her training kept pointing her toward the specialty. When she decided to interview for a fellowship in child abuse pediatrics, a colleague in pediatric oncology asked her why she wanted to work in such a sad field.

“You take care of little children with cancer. I could not do that,” Dr. Brown replied. “That’s not my thing. It breaks my heart.”

Dr. Brown understands that pediatricians may have difficulty handling the situations she encounters every day. She aims to increase their comfort level during a session titled “What to Do When a Child Discloses Abuse” (F4184) from 3-3:45 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28 in room R08 of the convention center. 

There is some mystery regarding what happens when a patient comes to a pediatrician’s office or the hospital and there are concerns about potential abuse, said Dr. Brown, a child abuse pediatrician at the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. While pediatricians are mandated reporters, they may second-guess themselves if the injuries are subtle and they have a relationship with the family.

During the session, Dr. Brown will discuss how to recognize abuse, describe situations in which a child may disclose abuse and review what questions to ask the child.

“One of the things we want to talk about is how to just be with that child and how to ask questions that you need to know for your treatment and care and also for reporting purposes in a way that’s not leading,” Dr. Brown said.

She also will talk about the importance of pediatricians dealing with their own emotions.

“… You can get secondary trauma and you can have a case that will shake you to the core,” Dr. Brown said. “That’s understandable and it’s OK to feel that way about these cases, and I think self-care is important for all of us.”

Finally, Dr. Brown wants pediatricians to remember that they are part of a team, and they won’t make or break a case.

“Realize that you’re not going to save the planet, you’re going to do the best you can,” she said. “You’re going to work with your colleagues. You’re going to work with the system, and you’re going to make a lot of difference to a lot of kids.”

For more coverage of the 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition, visit

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