Nationally-recognized physician-researcher, Dr. Karen D. Hendricks-Muñoz, named interim physician-in-chief of CHoR
Karen D. Hendricks-Muñoz, MD, MPH is well-known for her outstanding clinical care as the William Tate Graham Professor and Division Chair in neonatology, mentorship of physicians-in-training, innovative research, passion for health care equity for all families – and now her new roles as interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at CHoR.
“Karen is a tremendous physician and researcher, as well as a proven clinical leader. These skills, along with her fervent support of her colleagues, trainees and the children and families of the commonwealth, make her uniquely equipped to lead our medical team at CHoR,” said Peter Buckley, MD, dean of the VCU School of Medicine.
Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz assumes these roles at an exciting time, with the new inpatient children’s tower rolling toward completion in spring 2023, our Children’s Health Research Institute further shaping the future of pediatric medicine and families from throughout Virginia and beyond continuing to turn to CHoR for care in the midst of challenging current events.
“During this transition, we thank Dr. Bruce Rubin, inaugural Jessie Ball duPont Distinguished Professor, Department of Pediatrics, for his 11 years of dedicated leadership in these roles. In this time, he advocated to bring new specialists to CHoR, expand services and grow pediatric research to provide kids and families with the best care, when and where they needed it,” said Elias Neujahr, CHoR CEO. “As Dr. Rubin pivots to focus on clinical research and mentoring opportunities, Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz will reflect on the vision he built and help us continue to thrive across our educational, clinical and research missions.”
Getting to know Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz
Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz joined CHoR in 2012 as the inaugural William Tate Graham Chair in Neonatal Medicine. She also serves as deputy director of the VCU Center on Health Disparities. She answers seven questions to help us learn more about her background, passions and goals for the future of CHoR.
What’s the most rewarding part of your new roles?
Working with colleagues, trainees and staff in a new capacity – learning about their passions and priorities to help us all seize opportunities and make our health care goals reality is the most rewarding part of my new role.
What traits do you believe make a good leader?
I think being a good leader has to start with self-awareness of who you are and what you are about. Curiosity about people and their priorities is also key – it’s definitely important to understand the emotional connections of who we are and why we do things.
Good leaders need to honestly have the ability to generate trust, listening and learning about individuals’ thoughts and goals. They need to have the ability to transmit a shared vision and foster new ideas and personal development. In the end leadership isn’t about being “the boss,” but rather enabling others to believe in themselves and do great things.
What would you tell our community about the future of CHoR and pediatric medicine in the commonwealth?
I’m excited about the future of CHoR and pediatric medicine. We certainly all are facing challenging times with the pandemic and health inequity right now, yet we have continued to advance opportunities – and possibilities are still there for all of us to live the lives we hope for.
The community can see that we’ve harnessed great changes, not only with a new facility to provide the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art care, but in supporting community health needs and providing health care resources and family-centered care. We are definitely not standing still and we are listening and acting to decrease voids in care.
We know that what happens early in life shapes child health and who we are as adults and, frankly, future generations. With science and innovation, and through actions, you can trust our words and know that we focus on children and the future perspective for pediatrics, with improvement as a way of life.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in medicine, and specifically neonatology?
Being part of the support to navigate health excellence for children and the family resonated with me deeply as a teen and still does today. I aimed to become a specialist in maternal fetal medicine and received a master’s in public health with a maternal fetal medicine focus. At that point, I was not familiar with neonatal critical care as the field was still relatively new in the 1980s. As part of my obstetrics training at Yale, I was required to do clinical rotations in the NICU. Literally, within 24 hours I knew this was where I was meant to be for the rest of my life.
It has been the perfect decision, providing me the opportunity to provide and increase exceptional care for critically-ill infants and their families as well as continue that care through neonatal follow-up. I especially am drawn to the unified OB-neonatal team model and working with individuals who collaborate to advance care from the fetal period through childhood, incorporating important support for families.
What initially attracted you to CHoR back in 2012?
Having developed and built an outstanding neonatology program at a previous excellent institution in NY, as well as having worked on maternal/newborn health policies, I visited Richmond and learned about the future goals for health care at VCU and CHoR – as well as in Richmond and throughout Virginia. At that time, additional challenges in health equity and the changing landscape related to immigrant populations were also important considerations.
The opportunity to work to improve health care and health equity resonated with me. I felt deeply aligned with CHoR’s values for children and family health care. This included goals of providing top quality and safe care for all our patients and contributing to advancing health care and increasing health equity for all through leadership, education and research. These are the factors that brought me and keep me here.
In addition to your work as a neonatologist, why are research and education so important to you?
Research and education are fundamentally linked to health care in my opinion. We rely on scientific research to address health care quality for humanity and improve the care we provide every single day. We must not remain stagnant, but always look forward in research, ask questions, make improvements and teach future health clinicians and leaders. These are necessary and ever-evolving ingredients to quality health care.
What are your passions outside of medicine?
Outside of medicine my passions are teaching students, including investigators, and stimulating innovations. I enjoy hearing their perspectives, goals and dreams and providing the tools to make these dreams a reality in every way possible.
I’ve been fortunate to have a solid support endowment from the Eichenbaum family to educate students through my JACK’s Summer Scholars Program, which provides a national medium for undergraduate and medical students in their journey of health care education. I want to help in creating the next generation of physicians and health leaders.