Young ER doctor at Shands earns high AMA honor
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
Dr. Latha Stead calls her cellphone her clinic.
The ER doctor at Shands at the University of Florida specializes in traumatic brain injury and frequently meets patients in the parking lot or at benches outside the ER for follow-up care, since there's no specialized clinic for these patients. She has seen about 1,200 patients this way.
That's about to change, though, at of the beginning of December, when Stead will spearhead a clinic within Shands she got sponsorship for called the Center for Brain Injury and Education. The center will provide both research and clinical care for traumatic brain injury patients.
Stead's dedication to her patients and acclaimed career recently reached national recognition, when she was awarded the American Medical Association's William Beaumont Award in Medicine, also known as the Young Physician Award.
"It's one of the highest honors. This is like the house of medicine. I was really honored," Stead said.
At 43, Stead is the chief of clinical research at the UF College of Medicine, as well as a professor of emergency medicine and neurological surgery, and the Toral Family Foundation endowed professor of traumatic brain injury. She also was the first professor of emergency medicine at the Mayo Clinic and the chair of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester.
Dr. Joseph A. Tyndall, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at UF, said he recruited Stead in 2010 to lead the division of clinical research within the emergency medicine department.
"She had a growing reputation already," Tyndall said. "She's been absolutely outstanding. I call her a dynamo. She's an extraordinarily hard worker, very dedicated and incredibly smart. We are all consistently impressed at all that she gets done."
For Stead, though, the highlight of her career, she said, is simply working in the ER.
"There's no place I'd rather be," Stead said. "No one wants to be at the ER. If you go, you have to go. It's not your best time as a person, so we really see people in their time of need. Even if they never remember us, I feel good that we've made them feel better."
Stead is especially interested in helping traumatic brain injury patients. Last year she did a fellowship at UF in stroke and critical care, out of which her interest in traumatic brain injury emerged. The majority of traumatic brain injury victims, she said, have been in motor vehicle accidents and are men ages 18-64. Less than half of people in car accidents wear seat belts, and less than 30 percent of people involved in motorcycle crashes wear helmets, she said.
Stead sees them at her own trauma bin in the ER, but oftentimes after they go home, problems creep up.
"They vomit, or have headaches or post-concussive syndrome," Stead said.
Later on, patients might have problems concentrating. They may need speech therapy or vocational rehab. They often are referred to multiple departments, such as neuropsychology, neurology and psychiatry without receiving proper diagnosis or care.
"My concern is that they just fall through the cracks. If you don't have insurance, it's really hard to get good follow-up care," Stead said. "We would really like our clinic to be a one-stop place."
Tyndall added, "She has really seized an opportunity to fill a gap in the care of people who may otherwise not be looked at."
At Stead's new center, she and her three research fellows also will conduct research on traumatic brain injury. While 80 percent of brain injuries are mild, some people develop post-concussive syndrome, and understanding why is one of the questions they hope to address.
"There's no real good textbook chapter on traumatic brain injury. We hope to be the ones writing that," Stead said. "We like to think of ourselves as small and mighty."
One of her research fellows, Aakash Bodhit, said that working with Stead in her "cellphone clinic" has been an amazing experience. "It was a totally different experience," Bodhit said. "Sometimes (patients) would come at 7 a.m. It was also a different experience for them. They used to say it was so nice of us to call back. It wasn't part of our job description, but we tried to help patients as much as possible."
Bodhit seconds Tyndall's description of Stead as a "dynamo," and said he's learned a lot about time management from Stead in the nearly two years he's worked with her.
Stead's parents are from India, and she was born in Huntsville, Ala., where her father worked for NASA. He then worked for the United Nations, so Stead grew up between New York City and Switzerland.
She attended medical school in Puerto Rico and did her residency at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. She also has two master's degrees — including an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University just outside of Chicago.
Ask Stead where home is, and without skipping a beat she says Gainesville.
"I consider home wherever my address is … I love it here. It's a great, vibrant university community," she said.
Stead also is raising four sons here, who seem to be following in her footsteps. Her eldest, age 12, recently did a presentation for his middle school class on TBI in which he talked about the importance of wearing helmets while skateboarding.
"A lot of people had little awareness," Stead said. "It helped to change some attitudes."
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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