APS Howland Award Bonnie Maldonado

VideoEnvy traveled to Stanford University to interview several doctors for a video we produced for the American Pediatric Society's Howland Award. This prestigious award recognizes pediatric leaders who have made advancements in child health. Dr. Bonnie Maldonado is this year's recipient; she spent decades working in the field of infectious diseases and her research contributed significantly to our understanding of HIV/AIDS, polio, and rotavirus. Not only has she championed diversity in medical schools, but Dr. Bonnie Maldonado also focuses on ways to combat health disparities. She conducts research worldwide, sees patients, teaches undergraduate classes—and still finds time mentoring physicians and consulting with top dogs in Washington DC. Plus, she is the mother of three children.


[MUSIC PLAYING] West Nile virus malaria yellow fever. I was born in the US, but my parents are both from Northern Mexico. And they moved here when they got married. Living in two worlds was really important, I think, for the way I understood the world. Because I got to see what it was like to live in another country on a regular basis, and also what disparities might exist in other parts of the country and the world. I don't think there's ever one time where I thought I'd need to be a doctor. I just thought I wanted to do something scientific involving patients, and research, and maybe community health. And in the end, my career actually wound up accomplishing all three. But what struck me about Bonnie at the very beginning, and which has been true today was her commitment to really wanting to know what was going on, and how to change it positively. And coupled with that was her concern, and care about people, and her real compassion. I decided down the line to go to CDC. I focused on immunity prevention, and general infectious disease epidemiology, rather than focusing on one virus, or one pathogen. And it really taught me frontline work. How to work with the public, how to work with people, how to communicate with people, and how to still get the work done, and how to stop an outbreak. Around the same time, the World Health Organization had declared that they wanted to eradicate polio. And I knew that there wasn't very much work being done in polio. And I wanted to understand, at that time, how we could actually work to eliminate this virus, and the diseases it caused. One of the main projects that I first started working on with her, which was specifically how the polio virus replicates. Through her work in various countries, such as Mexico as well as Zimbabwe. Dr. Maldonado was able to really track the path of transmission, and understand on a deeper level how we can stop the transmission. We, last year, had 30 cases of wild polio paralytic disease in the world that we have documented. And this year so far, we've had no cases. I really wanted to work with polio. That was my passion. And lo and behold, early on in my career, HIV showed up. And we had to struggle with this virus. That was a really tough thing for me because I went into infectious diseases, because I thought we could cure diseases with vaccines. So the ability to have a treatment that would prevent disease in children was really groundbreaking because that allowed us to have more resources to then start finessing those treatments getting better treatments. Say we know what cures are-- She brings in these real world experiences into the classroom, and really get students to think a little bit more practically about how they can use this knowledge to really impact how medicine and public health are done in the world. I thought that HIV was a horrible episode to live through, and we're still living through. But COVID was something that it was beyond any of our expectations. To quote Bonnie, she said I've trained for this all my life. She spent decades doing research on RNA viruses, and transmission, and prevention, and education, and vaccine clinical effectiveness, whether it was India, or Zimbabwe, Mayan infants in Mexico. And she even had been an epidemiology officer at the CDC. It's a perfect storm to think about the point person at a school of medicine for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the point person for a pandemic. And she was both. And it's just extraordinary for leadership. When she first started in her role in this office, there were a lot of naysayers, if you will, that faculty development and diversity went together. It really took convincing individuals that these two were interrelated. And honestly, that faculty diversity is indispensable to development and success. Disparities affect all of us. Whether we realize it or not, disparities affect us all. And especially as pediatricians, our job is to give that new life the most potential it can to build into what whatever that young child wants to be. And what better way to do that than to be as inclusive as possible. Not only was she a great investigator, but she was a phenomenal mentor and builder, and she basically took a division, which had just a small number of people, many of them senior and added a whole panoply of young, bright, talented individuals that has made the Pediatric ID Division here fantastic. And I will say that division is the gold standard for what a division should be in an academic department of pediatrics. She has people doing extraordinary work clinical effectiveness, dissemination, implementation science. So it was just a wonderful research portfolio. Her faculty really are at the leading edge of innovation in education. Clinically, they're just outstanding, whether it's antibiotic stewardship, or infectious disease, and immunocompromised hopes. But the other thing is the advocacy. That is the heart of the climate science and concerns about climate science. So within this relatively small division, we have every element of the academic mission. I know that there are young people out there who could do even more if they had just a little bit of mentorship, and training, and learning. If we really elevate everybody, that we can actually make everyone a better off, not just one group or another. She is a global scholar. She's really had a impact, of course, on vaccines, and diseases, polio prevention and the like. That has gone way beyond the United States. And I think that is part of who she is. She speaks to the needs of those who are underserved, and has done that in a marvelous way. I think you have to be a natural optimist. When I see where we've come in the last 20, 30 years, I think we have done so much. But we have a long way to go. But the fact that we've gotten this far, means we can continue. Because if we don't have a future for our children, then why are we doing the work that we're doing? [MUSIC PLAYING]