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UofL addresses child neurology shortage with new residency

February 28th, 2007

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Anna Ehret is the first resident in the UofL child neurology program.

By Anne Eldridge

What do these children have in common? The fact that only child neurologists are trained to deal with their problems…that there’s a nationwide shortage of people who can help them…and, that they’re even less likely to get care close to home if they live in Louisville, southern Indiana or western Kentucky.

In 2005, the University of Louisville’s three child neurologists saw nearly 6,000 children like these. Still, with only one child neurologist per 139,000 children — well below the national average of one neurologist per 87,000 — children’s needs were unmet locally.

A new training program

To help address this shortage, UofL’s Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics have joined forces to “grow our own child neurologists,” said Michael Sowell, director of the new child neurology residency.

Graduates of the five-year training program will care for infants and children with nervous system disorders, spinal cord injuries, autism spectrum disorders, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, meningitis, developmental disabilities, seizures and sleep disorders.

The development of this new program is important for this community, according to Debbie McGrath, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation Kentuckiana. She knows firsthand about having to wait up to six months for a new patient appointment with a child neurologist and having to make trips out-of-town and out-of-state for treatment.

“The need for quality care is critical among children with neurological conditions, especially since the number of children affected has increased exponentially,” she said. “Currently, epilepsy alone affects more than 25,000 children in Kentuckiana.”

The child neurology residency program includes two years of training in pediatrics, one year in adult neurology and two years in pediatric neurology. Residents will spend time in the pediatric epilepsy monitoring unit and the inpatient child neurology service at Kosair Children’s Hospital and see patients in a practice setting.

Anna Ehret, a second year UofL pediatric resident, has been tapped to take the first slot in the child neurology program. She’s looking forward to the challenge, although she’s a little worried about starting her adult neurology training in July.

“That’s scary,” she said with a laugh. “I haven’t seen adults since medical school.”

While she’s not ready to make a commitment yet, Ehret, a Pike County native, is interested in staying in Louisville after she completes her residency in 2010.

“It’s great to see young doctors who want to practice pediatric neurology and are interested in staying in our community, where the need is so great. Our new residency will play a vital role in serving both the immediate and long-term needs of the region’s children with neurologic illness,” Sowell said.

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