Top Doc for Kids: Michelle Brenner
Some physicians look back on childhood doctor visits as an inspiration for their career. Not Michelle Brenner, the physician who received the most votes in the category of pediatrics in Coastal Virginia Magazine’s 2015 Top Docs survey.
“I had tons of ear infections as a child, and the doctor was not on my list of favorites,” says Dr. Brenner of General Academic Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. “We had a lot of neighbors and friends who were physicians, but being a doctor never landed on my radar.”
In college, Brenner worked her way through four different majors—movement and sports science, engineering, biochemistry and finally biology. While in college, she tore her ACL, had knee surgery and ended up spending a lot of time with her orthopedic surgeon in the office and doing summer research. That time around, she enjoyed it and decided to pursue a career as a physician.
Brenner loved orthopedics, but pediatrics won out in the end.
“Pediatrics was my last rotation of my third year in medical school,” she recalls. “Overall, pediatrics is such a fun, happy, positive place. It’s full of energy, and I love to be up and moving. When I went through pediatrics, I thought, ‘This is comfortable. This is home.’”
She also appreciates the variety in pediatrics.
“Pediatrics is like a box of chocolates—you never know what the next room is going to be,” she says. “You could go from a preemie to a teenager, from an overweight child to a child who could have leukemia.”
She and her partners also supervise 150 Eastern Virginia Medical School students and 66 pediatric residents. Brenner has served as the EVMS pediatric clerkship director for the last eight years, supervising the third-year medical students in their required eight-week pediatric rotation. She enjoys having the opportunity to help shape their futures.
Brenner served her own residency and chief residency at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, worked at the Medical College of Georgia for four years and then was happy to return to CHKD in 2006 with her husband, who works in pediatric sports medicine. Brenner, who serves on CHKD’s board of directors, is a breastfeeding specialist and medical director of The King’s Daughters Milk Bank at CHKD.
Her involvement in breastfeeding grew out of an interest in nutrition. “Families know that breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies, but why aren’t we doing it more?” she asks. “We know that almost 80 percent of moms in the United States have the intention to provide at least some breast milk for their babies. Moms come into the hospital wanting to breastfeed but later say they didn’t get any help.”
By the time babies have their first pediatrician visit at four or five days old, many mothers have already given up on breastfeeding, Brenner says. But it’s not too late.
“The moms still have abundant milk, so abundant they’re uncomfortable,” she says. “They’re wishing they could have made breastfeeding work. We can get them breastfeeding.”
Brenner passed the International Board of Lactation Consultants exam more than a decade ago and says she has been welcomed as a physician supporting breastfeeding. She was part of the team that founded CHKD’s milk bank so that the preterm infants of mothers who can’t breastfeed or have insufficient milk supply could benefit from breast milk too.
In addition to breastfeeding, another passion is integrative medicine—an approach that considers mind, body and spirit as influences on health, wellness and disease prevention. In January, Brenner completed a fellowship in integrative medicine at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. CHKD is now one of five sites across the country for introducing integrative medicine to pediatric residents in training.
With an integrative medicine approach:
*A physician might recommend honey instead of cough medicine for a cough in a child over one year old because cough medicine not only isn’t helpful but also can be harmful to children.
*For a child with headaches, a doctor might look at ways to incorporate relaxation and mindfulness instead of first prescribing medicine.
*In a child with ADHD, a doctor might still prescribe medication but would also help the family establish better routines of eating, physical activity and sleep.
A good sleep routine is essential but often overlooked.
“Children and teens have a television or cell phone in their bedrooms, and they’re getting texts all night long,” she says. “Even when they’re not getting texts, the blue light from electronic screens is interrupting their sleep on so many occasions. Most children and teens need nine to 10 hours of good sleep a night, and most aren’t getting that.”
Her favorite patients are part of families that she’s taken care of for a long time.
“The ideal family for me is one who walks in with their second newborn,” she says, and even over the phone, the smile is evident in her voice. “They come in with the toddler that we’ve already known for years, and then they come in with the new baby. I love being with happy families and helping them make good, positive lifestyle decisions.”