Most people aren’t sure what they want to do when they get older, but Dr. Robert Gajarski knew he wanted to work in medicine from the time he was 7 years old.
Now, Gajarski has been in medicine for 25 years and is the section chief of Nationwide Children's Hospital's Heart Center.
“I have no idea why I was sort of interested in the human body and how it worked,” he says.
While in high school, Gajarski worked at a hospital, which helped to pique his interest in medicine. However, when he went off to college, he strayed from his calling until graduation. That's when he decided to take the steps toward medical school.
At first, Gajarski says, he was unsure if he wanted to work with children or adults. But after much consideration, he settled on working in pediatrics.
“I was … more interested in taking care of kids, who really didn’t have any control over their (illnesses),” he says.
Deciding to go into cardiology was just a natural progression for Gajarski. He felt he could not be a general pediatrician.
“Since I was always interested in the heart, even from the time that I was working in the hospital before I even went off to college, I thought, ‘You know what? This could be really, really interesting,’” he says.
As a student, Gajarski did a rotation in the cardiology department. He was interested in learning more about critical care in cardiology and, as a result, became interested in transplant patients and heart failure.
“It seems like those are all different things, but it turns out that heart failure and transplant patients are among the sickest patients that we take care of,” he says.
When Gajarski was first starting out transplants were a relatively new concept.
“The first successful transplants were only a few years old,” he says.
Gajarski hit the ground running. He was even involved in the treatment of the first pediatric transplant patient.
The great thing about his field, Gajarski says, is that transplant patients and heart failure patients are actually connected to one another – something most people do not realize.
“They’re linked together because transplant patients are derived from heart failure patients,” he says.
Now, doctors are working on collecting data so they can understand how patients should be managed during treatment and recovery. Gajarski says the doctors who are researching this will come together and share their data because “medicine is not always a science,” and different things might work for different people.
The goal, he says, is to find something that might work for everyone.
Health Care Reform Post-ACA
Gajarski came to Ohio from Michigan in September 2015, after going back to graduate school to receive more training in leadership roles in the hospital.
His training lasted three years. He learned how health care and the Affordable Care Act affect the pediatrics department. When he had the opportunity to take over as the Heart Center’s section chief, Gajarski saw it as a chance to spread his wings.
“(It) seemed to embrace some of the clinical responsibilities that I had before, and it added on a new leadership role where I would be able to sort of utilize all that training I had just gone through,” he says. “It was a nice opportunity to utilize all my clinical skills, and then fold in the recent leadership and health care policy training I had (received).”
Now, Gajarski is part of a committee working diligently to come up with initiatives to implement the ACA in the pediatrics hospital.
Gajarski says the committee is reaching out to private parties to get the initiatives started so they do not have to wait for government funding to come in.
“We want to be on the other end of things where we’re the ones doing the research, driving what the most appropriate quality metrics are that really do correlate with an outcome that we care about and then go to (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) or third party payers and say, ‘So, we’ve done our own homework. This is what we think,’” he says.
Gajarski says his hope is to be on the front end of change in the pediatrics department with the ACA.
Teaching at OSU
In addition to his role at Nationwide Children’s, Gajarksi is a professor at The Ohio State University, a rank that transferred over from a position he’d held in Michigan.
Gajarski says his role as a professor is to teach future generations his trade, so they can become great cardiologists.
“If I can teach a few people what I do and have them be academically successful … then I’ve accomplished my goal as a professor,” he says.
Gajarski does his research and wakes up in the morning because of the kids.
“If we can give better care to the kids in the community … then they presumably won’t need to come to the hospital,” he says. “That’s what we want.”
Dylanne Petros is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.
About Dr. Robert J. Gajarski
Dr. Robert J. Gajarski is section chief of the Heart Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, he completed his pediatric residency at the University of Virginia followed by a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Gajarski’s research interests include clinical research in the area of heart failure and cardiac transplantation, cardiac critical care medicine and health care reform post-ACA implementation. Gajarski is Board certified in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology.