Pediatrician focuses on engaging with community groups as way to provide the best care for kids and families
By Chris Motola
Q: Tell us a bit about your specialty.
A: I am a general pediatrician, so I see kids from birth to age 21 in a general pediatric outpatient setting. So primary care, pretty much.
Q: You’re relatively new to your practice. When did you start?
A: I’ve been a pediatrician for about three years. I finished my pediatric residency in 2019 in Rochester, moved back to Buffalo and have been practicing about three years.
Q: You do a lot of work in community outreach and recently organized a conference on the topic. What can you tell us about that?
A: So community health in general, aside from the Community Advocacy Conference, is really integral to the practice of pediatrics. It involves engagement of community members and community-based organizations to come together to meet the needs of kids and families. The reason why this is so important is because healthcare alone cannot meet all of the health and medical needs of families. And, on average, when you’re talking about an individual’s health, about 20% of your health can be attributed to medical care. More than 50% is attributable to social factors, the environment the individual is surrounded by, their community resources, their financial stability and support networks. So we need to build on those support networks within the community in order to provide the best care that we can to families.
Q: Can you give an example of how that works in practice?
A: So if a family is coming into the office and I’m worried about the child’s increasing weight or labs that indicate that their cholesterol is increasing or that they have a marker for diabetes, that’s my concern. But the family may be concerned about housing issues, lack of access to healthy food, reliable childcare, etc. It’s very hard to meet the health needs of a patient with high cholesterol or pre-diabetes if the family is weighed down by other issues that are, understandably, higher on their priority list. I’m talking about the social determinants of health, which are so important to be addressing as physicians.
Q: What kinds of organizations do you work with?
A: Buffalo is really lucky in a lot of ways because we have so many community organizations that want to partner with the doctor’s offices and healthcare agencies. Food insecurity is an area of interest for me. There are organizations like Buffalo Go Green that partner with doctors’ offices to bring fresh produce to the clinical setting. And then we can do things like produce prescriptions where we give families vouchers to farmer’s markets and, with Buffalo Go Green the markets can come and set up outside our office. So we can actually refer families to the farmers’ market. So they’ve worked with us closely to do programming around nutrition and food access. Another organization we’ve partnered with is a diaper bank called Every Bottom Covered. We’ve noticed that many of our families don’t have access to diapers for their children. And diapers are one of the important items that have no exclusive federal assistance program, unlike food where there’s SNAP and WIC. So communities do rely on diaper banks. So we’ve partnered with Every Bottom Covered to improve the referral process from our clinic as well as helping us set up a diaper bank within our clinic. So those are kind of two examples.
Q: Do you get involved with resources for teenagers as well?
A: We’ve partnered with Hope Buffalo around sexual health programming and how to talk to teens about sexual health in a way that makes sense to them. They actually employ youth to help train physicians in how to communicate with them on the topic.
Q: Prior to becoming a doctor did you work within any of these kinds of organizations? Or did your interest come about more recently?
A: No, I never worked with these organizations as a youth myself, but I’ve always been interested in community engagement. When I was an undergrad I volunteered with the Jericho Road’s The Priscilla Project, which was an amazing experience for me to get to know some wonderful refugee families in the community and hopefully provide some assistance in the process. But it was during my residency in Rochester that I learned how we, as physicians, can engage in community health and advocate for patients in their families outside of the 15-minute visit. When you realize you can’t address all of the problems that you’d like to address, you have to partner with other organizations to meet all the concerns of the families.
Q: How successful have your efforts been to connect patients with these organizations?
A: Yeah, for sure. It’s been a work in progress over the past few years, and it’s one of my passions. I’m also the associate program director of advocacy for UB pediatric residency program, so I have the opportunity in that role to work with our pediatricians-in-training. My goal is to develop the community health and advocacy curriculum for them. My goal is for them to have at least one community partner for their projects that they’re getting input from. For the residents alone, we had 12 projects over the past year that incorporated community partners. I’m also co-medical director of the Buffalo Public School District, so that gives me the opportunity to interact with folks within the school district and help design policies and procedures within the school. I’m also the director of our Western New York Children’s Environmental Health Center, which works with community engagement to improve children’s environmental health. And that has a few different programs for screening for environmental concerns in a clinical setting such as housing-related concerns like molds and pests, and food insecurity as well. All these positions afford me the opportunity engage in all kinds of community help.
Name: Sarah J. Ventre, M.D., MPH
Position: Pediatrician, UBMD Pediatrics; co-medical director, Buffalo Public School District; assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University at Buffalo; associate program director for advocacy, UB pediatric residency program
Affiliation: Oishei Children’s Hospital
Education: SUNY Upstate Medical University (Master of Public Health and medical degrees); residency in pediatrics, University of Rochester; fellowship, Pediatrics for Equitable Developmental Start (PEDS) Learning Network, United Hospital Fund
Organizations: American Academy of Pediatrics
Family: Wife, two children
Hobbies: Hiking, paddle-boarding, indoor rock climbing