HemAware is conducting a series of interviews with recipients of the NHF-Shire Clinical Fellowship. It is funded through the generous support of Shire. The objective of this grant is to increase the number of skilled clinicians committed to providing comprehensive care for individuals with bleeding disorders and to prepare candidates for academic careers.
This interview was conducted with Nidra Rodriguez, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Hematology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The fellowship was funded from 2004–2006.
Why did you decide to study medicine?
Rodriguez never wrestled with her future vocation. From the tender age of 5, when she was growing up in Puerto Rico, she knew she was destined to become a doctor. “When I was in kindergarten, I said that I wanted to be the doctor of kids.” Rodriguez felt it was her calling to help people in need and her focus never strayed from pediatrics.
What initially attracted you to hematology?
At first it wasn’t hematology that attracted Rodriguez, but oncology. “I was very touched by the patient population and the needs they had,” Rodriguez says of her oncology rotation during her residency at the University Pediatric Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “There was a very unique relationship with them and with their families.” She was drawn to oncology and found it gratifying. “It was not until the end of that first year that I was exposed to a hematology rotation, and that’s when I got even more excited about the field.”
How did the training and mentorship you received as an NHF-Shire Clinical Fellow affect your decision to pursue clinical care and/or research in bleeding disorders?
Receiving the fellowship cemented Rodriguez’s decision to focus on hematology. It also opened doors of opportunity for her, and she still values the mentoring she received. “I had great mentorship from W. Keith Hoots, MD, former director of the Gulf States Hemophilia and Thrombophilia Center in Houston throughout my years of fellowship and later on.” Through the grant, Rodriguez started to see future opportunities to pursue interesting research topics and issues to help patients.
Are you still engaged in the clinical aspects of patient care or bleeding disorders research? What aspect of care are you most interested in?
Rodriguez spends the majority of her time treating adult and pediatric patients. The remaining 20% of her time is devoted to research studies. “I’m the principal investigator for multiple studies in the clinical arena, primarily focusing on hemophilia.” One study is evaluating the long-term benefits of prophylaxis as children become teens and adults. Another is looking at long-acting factor VIII products.
Did your NHF-Shire Clinical Fellowship assist in advancing your own position at your institution? Or did it serve as a building block to further your career in coagulation?
“It did help me achieve the goals that I had,” Rodriguez says. She credits the fellowship with helping her land a faculty position afterward.
Where do you think bleeding disorders research and clinical care may be headed in the near future? In the next decade?
Rodriguez believes that revisiting gene therapy is important and cites the clinical trial currently being conducted on patients with factor IX deficiency as an example. “Also, there’s very strong interest in the long-acting FVIII or FIX products to improve compliance and help our patients not infuse as much as they are right now.” Experiments using different methods of administering clotting factor proteins, such as orally for patients with specific mutations, also seem to be paving the way for future innovative treatments, she says.
When you are not working, how do you relax or “escape” from your work?
Spending time with her husband and two sons is important to Rodriguez. So is supporting her sons at the ball park. “So if I’m not at work, I’m probably at a baseball field,” she says. Vacation time is spent traveling, typically flying to Puerto Rico to visit her dad and her husband’s family. Most of the rest of Rodriguez’s family is scattered throughout the US. “I would have to make a lot of stops to see all of them,” she says jokingly.