Written by Catherine Lewis Saenz
Before medical school, Dr. Hildreth was an undergraduate biology student who did not want to go to medical school. However, she soon became interested in genetics and pediatric sports medicine. The latter interest a result of her time working as a gymnastic coach and which ultimately led her to apply to osteopathic medical school.
A graduate of RVUCOM’s inaugural Class of 2012, Dr. Hildreth is Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) and a clinician scientist at Rady Children’s Hospital Institute for Genomic Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, a Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition residency at UC San Diego, and a Pediatric Transplant Hepatology Fellowship at the University of Washington.
After completing her extensive medical training, Dr. Hildreth now specializes in a rare branch of medicine: pediatric transplant hepatology. We asked Dr. Hildreth questions about her specialty that many may not know about:
Why is the pediatric transplant hepatology specialty so obscure?
“In 2006, a certificate of added qualification in pediatric transplant hepatology became available. Now, there are about 150 of us who hold this certificate (and I am only the second osteopathic physician!).
In total, it requires 7 years of post-graduate training including 3 years of general pediatrics, 3 years of pediatric gastroenterology, and 1 year of transplant hepatology. It is definitely a commitment, and [the specialty] does not reap the same financial benefits of other specialties requiring similar lengths of training.”
What would people be surprised to learn about with your specialty?
“Most people are surprised that there are enough children receiving liver transplants to have a dedicated specialty. Each year, there are between 500 to 600 pediatric liver transplants performed in the United States. And not all of my patients need a liver transplant; I care for all types of liver disease.”
Why do you love about pediatric transplant hepatology?
“It is truly amazing that we can have a child who is on their death bed and then give them the gift of a new liver, which completely transforms the patient and their family’s life.”
What projects and/or research are you currently working on or plan to work on in the future?
“Pediatric hepatology is a small field, and as such much of our clinical research comes from multicenter collaborations and registries that my institution and I are involved with. At the Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine (where I am a clinician scientist), I focus on use of whole-genome sequencing in many aspects of liver disease. I am also very involved in advocacy (listed below).
One in five infants and one in ten children die every year on the liver transplant waitlist, so it is crucial for us physicians to advocate for improved access to organs for children.”
What has been your most memorable experience (or patient) in residency/practice so far?
“One of the most memorable experiences was watching a liver reperfusion for the first time during a liver transplant surgery. It’s the moment that the blood flow of the new liver is connected in the body and you watch the color change as if it were coming back to life.
In general, I absolutely love caring for patients and families during the first days/weeks after the liver transplant surgery. While it is a very stressful and emotional time – and sometimes patients have complications – it is fascinating to watch how these children can heal so quickly.”
Since graduating from RVUCOM, Dr. Hildreth has received the Dr. Wasserman Pediatric Resident Award from Children’s Mercy Hospital in 2015 and the Studies in Pediatric Liver Transplantation (SPLIT) Annual Meeting Travel Award in 2018. She has also served on numerous committees and in leadership roles including Co-Director of the Pediatric Symposium Course at The Liver Meeting in 2021, and is a member of the NASPGHAN Hepatology Committee, the American Society of Transplantation Liver and Intestinal Community of Practice, and the Society of Pediatric Liver Transplantation (SPLIT) Advocacy Committee.
Dr. Hildreth is a dog mom to a pit/chow rescue named Dakota. When not at work, she loves being outdoors and hiking, biking, paddle boarding, snowboarding, and traveling. While she was a student at RVU, she started participating in triathlons and still does them for fun almost every year.
A little known fact about Dr. Hildreth is that she was a contestant on Ellen’s Game of Games (see photo above). She came in second place so unfortunately did not win the cash prize, “which of course would have gone straight to my loans.”