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Focus on Alison Cahill, MD, MSCI

Alison Cahill, MD, MSCI, is the division chief of maternal fetal medicine and specializes in high risk obstetrics.

 

Her areas of clinical interest include maternal congenital heart disease, diabetes in pregnancy, critical care obstetrics, vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) and operative vaginal delivery.

 

Dr. Cahill sees patients at:

Women’s Health Center, Center for Advanced Medicine, 4921 Parkview Place, 5th floor, Suite A. FOR AN APPOINTMENT PLEASE CALL 314-454-8181.

Center for Women’s Wellness and Fetal Health, Missouri Baptist Medical Center, 3023 N. Ballas Road, Building D, Suite 450. FOR AN APPOINTMENT PLEASE CALL 314-996-6000.
 

What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?

It happened when I delivered my first baby during my obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) rotation in my third year of medical school. Students rotate through different specialties in training and I chose to do my OB/GYN rotation last -- because for some reason I thought it was not going to interest me. I was on call at night on my very first shift – and delivered my first baby. And that was the end of the story!

I kept waiting to discover aspects of OB/GYN that I might not like, but it never happened. It’s a wonderful specialty. I am obviously completely biased; but it was a perfect fit for me. Taking care of women and their families is very gratifying.

It was only later in my residency training that I gravitated towards high risk obstetrics and became a maternal fetal medicine specialist.

 

 

 

What was it about maternal fetal medicine that drew you?

It’s an exciting time in obstetrics because there has been much progress on so many fronts. Maternal fetal medicine specialists take care of at-risk moms, and it’s very rewarding to help a woman who has had a medical history of complicated pregnancies achieve a successful delivery.

What brought you to Washington University?

I came here because Washington University and its maternal fetal medicine fellowship have a wonderful reputation. I’m from the Northeast and had never been to St. Louis. I planned to just stay for my fellowship, but quickly became attached to the school. I immediately felt comfortable and very much at home. It’s a fantastic place to practice medicine, take care of patients and do research.

St. Louis really grew on me. I enjoy the quality of life here and I actually like the weather – you can play golf or run outside 10 months out of the year -- compared to the Northeast where you have fewer months to do things outdoors without being totally bundled up!

What research are you involved in right now?

I’m a perinatal epidemiologist, and have a lab that focuses on research in obstetrics and specifically, term-birth morbidity -- babies carried full-term that are not healthy when born.

Although some of my projects are associated with our new pre-term birth center here and the March of Dimes, our focus is what we do most often – delivering full term babies. We study the outcomes that we would like to prevent – full term babies born with complications.

Pregnancies that are complicated by metabolic abnormalities are also a focus of my lab. We have an ongoing trial to optimize weight gain for women who were overweight when they became pregnant.

Our management of labor and delivery, and what we know about the labor curve (cervical dilation and descent of the baby during active labor) has really changed. So in regard to general obstetrics, collaboration with colleagues in other specialties is just one of the great things about being at Washington University.

What new developments in your field are you most excited about?

The science to help us take better care of women during their pregnancies is continuing to evolve, and that’s exciting. It wasn’t too long ago when it was thought that women who had certain health conditions (such as heart defects), could not safely have pregnancies. That thinking has changed drastically.

The advances in genetics and perinatal medicine are also huge. Our ability to test for genetic abnormalities in babies before they are born is changing all the time. In just the past two years, we have been able to detect fetal genetic material in the mother’s blood. This test can help answer questions about conditions such as Down syndrome, without bringing any risk to the pregnancy – which can happen with amniocentesis.

What part of the Northeast are you from?

I was born in Connecticut. I did all my schooling in Connecticut and my residency at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, before I came here.

Is there an award or achievement that is most gratifying?

The achievements of my mentees probably give me greater joy than anything else. I have the privilege to teach students, residents and fellows not just how to be a doctor, but how to do research for the first time. For some, it will just be an experience they’ll have as part of their training. But hopefully for others, it will open a door to what they might be doing some day with their career. That’s what happened to me.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

There is not just one piece of advice. Be patient. Work hard. Do the right thing.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?

I never really had a backup plan. I was one of those kids who didn’t have any doctors in my family, but I just always wanted to be a doctor, and really didn’t know why.

But if I wasn’t a doctor, I would probably be a race car driver or have a bakery. I went to race car driving school – briefly -- and drove open top Indy cars.

I also love to cook, it’s a great way to decompress and I find it extremely relaxing. My husband and I cook together, and we really enjoy it.