Graduate with Heart for Service Dedicated to Students, Patients
By Susie Phillips Gonzalez
The adage that goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” personifies Dina Tom, M.D.–pediatrician, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, sister, volunteer.
Dr. Tom, Class of 2010, is an assistant professor in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and a staff pediatrician at University Hospital. This year, she is advising six pediatric residents on their academic progress and mentoring other residents on the administrative aspects of research.
In addition, she serves on the university’s admissions committee, wellness committee and committees for women and minorities as well as a committee overseeing the annual San Antonio Express-News Book and Author Luncheon which benefits the Phase I Clinical Research Program at the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Admitting to having a “heart for service,” Dr. Tom joined fellow UT Health physicians on a global health trip in November with Peru Mission, a non-governmental agency, to Peru where she helped set up clinics for community health screenings. Earlier this year, Dr. Tom traveled with the university’s Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics to Ethiopia to treat 200 school children and a women’s literacy group suffering from skin conditions. Last year, she travelled to Vietnam with the Southeast Asia Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Group to teach physicians how to provide pain management and sedation to children undergoing cancer therapy.
Back home, she periodically volunteers at a migrant resource center. “Even if it’s two hours a month, I like to give back in some way,” she says.
How can she do all this in a mere 24 hours a day? Dr. Tom subscribes to a philosophy of time management and work-life balance but quickly adds that learning to be intentional about time wasn’t automatic. With a husband and two small children, early in her career she experienced what she describes as a feeling of drowning, explaining that her “life was a disaster. I could never keep up with anything.”
Then she attended a conference for hospitalists with a session on time management. “It spoke to me,” she says, afterward diving headlong into books, videos and online tutorials to discover tools and tips for taking control of her days. Now, she leads seminars for staff, faculty and students and speaks at conferences about her methods. “You identify what your life would look like if there were balance. It’s different for everybody. You recognize the people and the commitments we have in our daily lives make up who we are, but they also make up our time,” she says.
A book about time management is in the works–when she has time. Dr. Tom also is moving into a pediatric advocacy role, particularly about the need for childhood vaccines. Also when time permits, she hopes to return to earlier research about shared decision making between physicians and patients regarding medical options and care for a patient or a child.
A first-generation college graduate, Dr. Tom always thought she would be a teacher and is happy to educate students and patients. As busy as she is, she does not hesitate to share her time, citing two role models, Joe and Teresa Long. In 2006, the couple selected her as a Long Presidential Scholar to fully fund her medical education.
“I was very blessed to be chosen,” Dr. Tom says. “It was a full scholarship for all of medical school. My husband and I had just gotten married, and we say it was our wedding present.” She has lunch annually with the Longs, whom she calls “incredible people” who view the Long Scholars as their children. “I think about them all the time. The campus and medical school are named after them, and they always preached paying it forward. They put a lot of faith into the Long Scholars and believe we will go out and make a difference,” Dr. Tom says.
When asked if she’s making a difference, Dr. Tom answers, “I do in small ways.” She credits her nine colleagues in the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine with making a difference. “We model every day what it should be like to be a doctor to a patient, whether they are uninsured or the patient is confused or scared. Not every medical student (in a pediatric rotation) will become a pediatrician, but they see us get down on our knees and look our patients in the eye and hold their hand when they are scared. We are creating compassionate physicians. I can’t imagine another job that I would love as much.”