A Pediatrician for All the Right Reasons

A Class of '85 alumna shares details about her rewarding career path and current role as Director of Adolescent Medicine at Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint, MI.

There is a quote that Anju Sawni, MD ’85, keeps in her office to remind her why she loves her job:

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

Although, it doesn’t appear that Dr. Sawni often needs reminding. She speaks about her career in pediatrics and adolescent medicine with obvious joy.

“I think pediatricians are some of the happiest physicians,” Dr. Sawni says. “Kids are wonderful. They’re fun, they’re curious, they’re motivated, they give you hugs. I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to impact the life of a child or a teenager.”

Dr. Sawni is the Director of Adolescent Medicine at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, Michigan. She’s also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

Could you give an overview of the career path that brought you here?
I always wanted to be a pediatrician. I’m from the Toronto area and I went to undergrad at the University of Western Ontario in London Ontario. After applying to Canadian medical schools, which are very competitive, I started looking for alternative options. A friend of mine had gone to AUC, and that’s how I found out about it. I did my residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Detroit MI and then a fellowship in adolescent medicine at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. Since then I've been in academic medicine.

What are some of your main responsibilities?
I see patients, teach residents and medical students, and do research. Since I took over the director position here at Hurley Children’s Hospital, I’ve been working more with medical students and residents, which I really enjoy. I oversee the 3rd year medical students’ pediatric simulation labs, run the pediatric rotation in adolescent medicine, and serve as one of the core competency medical student clerkship directors for Flint Area Medical Education (FAME).

What do you like most about working with residents and medical students?
They’re open to learning and full of energy, and they keep me on my toes. I’ve been a faculty mentor for pediatric residents for almost 30 years. Two of my pediatric resident mentees went on to do fellowships in adolescent medicine, and one came back to Michigan to practice adolescent medicine, which is really heartening. You never realize whose life you can touch by teaching. It’s very gratifying when, at the end of a rotation, residents tell me they feel much more comfortable talking to teens. I’ve had students and residents come back and thank me, send me a card or an email telling me that I influenced them in a positive way, and I never realized that I had that kind of impact. 

Why did you choose to specialize in adolescent medicine?
I’ve always liked working with adolescents. They have unique needs—they’re not children, but they’re not adults either. So their doctor needs to wear a lot of hats. I’m a primary care physician, as well as a subspecialist.  I do well teen visits, immunizations etc. as well as see teens who are referred to me with specific adolescent issues, such as eating disorders, gyn concerns, behavioral problems, parental conflicts, emotional issues, and so forth. Adolescence is a time of huge change; physical, cognitive and psychosocial with peer pressure that can lead to teens starting to engage in high-risk behaviors.

What kind of research are you involved with?
One of my research interests is integrative medicine. In addition to what you might call conventional medicine, integrative medicine makes use of therapies like herbal supplements, acupuncture, mind-body medicine, etc. I ran a children’s consultative clinic for children and teenagers, which provided integrative therapies to manage asthma and ADHD. I teach meditation, self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques to school-age children and adolescents. It’s about learning techniques/coping skills to calm the mind, and using therapeutic suggestions to manage medical issues like anxiety, school phobia, chronic headaches, abdominal pain, and other medical conditions that have an emotional component. 

Any advice for pre-med students?
You really want to go into medicine for the right reasons—because it’s your passion to help people. It’s very hard work. But if you are motivated and determined to be a physician, never give up. Follow your dream. If you have to go through an alternative route, that’s okay. Just pursue it and stay committed.