Synapse Spotlight: Paige Church talks identifying the behavioral phenotype of prematurity

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Welcome to Synapse Spotlight where we feature an interview with an inspiring NICU healthcare professional.

Today we are sharing an interview with Dr. Paige Terrien Church, MD on her work in identifying the behavioral phenotype of prematurity (BPP). 

Tell us a little bit about you, your training, and what inspired you to work in the NICU?

My work is inspired directly by my own medical history, starting life in a NICU. I was a term child with a form of spina bifida, complicated by a post-operative wound infection/meningitis.

Can you tell us more about the behavioral phenotype of prematurity and how it shows up in your day to day work?

The BPP is in our clinic every day. It describes the strengths and challenges observed in the preterm population, as it relates to the dysmaturation of the brain. Our clinic has focused on how to nurture through nature and modify the BPP, educate parents to be better prepared and advocate more effectively, and ultimately, help our children lead extraordinary and fun lives.

Has identifying this phenotype impacted the information you provide families in the NICU (or maybe on their first visit to Follow Up Clinic)? How should NICU Follow-Up care be changed to integrate your work more universally?

I think it has changed all of our care at Sunnybrook HSC. We see the children differently and start educating and offering strategies as early as possible, even while babies and families are still in the NICU. We have developed a team called BOOST (Building Opportunities for Optimal and Smooth Transitions) to also try to modify outcomes, providing continuity of care and shifting much of the decision making for the convalescing child to the parents while in the NICU. In doing so, we are starting to build their “parental capacity” muscles before discharge.  

Follow up needs start in the NICU and extend into the school years. It is simple. We spend so much on NICU care and then budget follow up…that is a horrible approach to a significant investment.

Is there any additional work or resources on this topic that you’d like to share with the Synapse Community?

We are developing a website currently focused on care after discharge for the preterm child and directed to parents. It is still in progress but available as a resource.  

What is the most rewarding part of your job (in clinic or in the NICU)?

The most rewarding part is seeing the children come back, grow and thrive. I also love seeing the parents and watching them thrive as well.

What is your biggest struggle at work and how are you working through it?

The biggest struggle for me is balancing time, goals, personal life, and health. The balance is more like a see-saw and it rotates back and forth!

How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technology coming to the NICU?

Being dual certified in both Neonatology and Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, I always feel that I am behind somewhere. I read and read and read… No TV for me!

What advice would you give to new nurses (or Neonatologists) just starting their career in the NICU?

To new staff, I would say “work hard, play hard” and you will love your career. I believe in this motto so deeply and if you do what you love, it is easy to live. 

What is one thing you do every day to keep you sane (in the midst of NICU or Clinic chaos)?

I walk…every day. Early in the mornings and if I can, provided the sun is up, in the woods. It is heaven and clears my head so truly. 


Dr. Paige Terrien Church is the director of Neonatal Follow Up Program at the University of Toronto. She is also the medical director of the Neonatal Follow Up Clinic at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Developmental Behavioral Physician Lead in the spina bifida clinic at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. She is is an Assistant Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. Dr. Church received her medical degree at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. She completed pediatric training at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital and went on to complete dual training in Neonatology and Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at Tufts-New England Medical Center. She is board certified through the American Board of Pediatrics in Neonatology and Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics.



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