Meet Maria Luisa Suzzarini, MD, IBCLC

By: Alexis Wheeler, Marketing & Creative Social Media Intern

Maria Luisa Suzzarini, MD, is a board-certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

and pediatrician from Venezuela. She shares with us a glimpse of her experiences throughout her healthcare journey.

Alexis: Tell me a little bit about your background in healthcare.

Dr. Suzzarini: I went to Medical school at the Central University of Venezuela after obtaining my bachelor’s in science degree. Medical school in Venezuela is comprised of six and half years of formal training plus one year of work as a general practitioner. During medical school, I discovered I had a great passion for treating children. For this reason, I applied for residency and was matched into the number one pediatric program in my country. While in residency, I learned about multiple conditions but none of them were as prevalent as newborn/infantile malnourishment. I was able to appreciate how, with simple mother’s training and support in regard to breastfeeding, the vast majority of these [malnourishment] problems could be solved. My breastfeeding journey started during my residency and carried on after I completed my training. I moved to the USA, due to the political situation, and aimed to continue my training in the breastfeeding world. I had the opportunity to complete my U.S. breastfeeding training at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) and then became an IBCLC.

Alexis: How was your experience as a pediatrician in Venezuela?

Dr. Suzzarini: My residency program entitled four years of training. During these years, I was able to solidify the foundation of my medical knowledge and the ability to effectively apply this information to the biological, psychosocial, and epidemiological aspects of pediatric illnesses. I was able to develop critical thinking abilities and, at the same time, improve my communication skills with patients, their families, and/or health care providers. This would prove to be very beneficial for my work as a breastfeeding specialist in the United States.

Alexis: How is healthcare different in the United States compared to your experience as a pediatrician in Venezuela?

Dr. Suzzarini: There are several differences between healthcare in the United States and Venezuela from population and socioeconomic backgrounds to differences in cultural beliefs. However, one of the biggest dissimilarities is the use of technology in regard to electronic medical records and general patient care. The United States has been the country dictating the tempo in the orchestra of technology advancements for patient care. The use of web-based platforms for delivering patient care is not well developed and almost non-existent in Venezuela. This limits access to medical care in remote populations.

Alexis: What type of scenarios did you see in Venezuela?

Dr. Suzzarini: I was exposed to many scenarios during my training as a pediatrician in Venezuela. These ranged from preventive medicine, vaccinations, nutritional care, and medical ICU to a myriad of surgical cases. Breastfeeding cases started early on during my residency. Some of them required simple support to the mother, while others required integrated medical care with other sub-specialties.

Alexis: How have those scenarios trained you to be where you are today?

Dr. Suzzarini: Thanks to the wide variety of cases that I was able to experience during my previous training, I gathered the necessary knowledge and critical thinking to perform as a Lactation Consultant in the United States and became the president of the Venezuelan National Commission of Lactation. In addition, I work passionately in research at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and in charge of a technological platform gathering data to promote evidence-based medicine improving patient care.

Alexis: Please explain the knowledge you acquired from your experience as a pediatrician in Venezuela that you would not have acquired in the US.

Dr. Suzzarini: Venezuela, being a third-world country with precarious social-economic conditions, some of the cases are more severe than the ones I used to see in the United States. In addition, the lack of tools to properly deliver care forced us to think outside the box to develop new strategies for appropriate patient care. My previous training also allows me to understand the position of the pediatrician and to better complement the care of my patients.

Alexis: Are there any challenges you face from being a pediatrician?

Dr. Suzzarini: I wish the day could have more hours so I could dedicate more time to research, breastfeeding, my family, and being the president of the Venezuelan National Commission of Lactation.

Alexis: How are patients' lives changing from your type of care?

Dr. Suzzarini: I feel like I have a better understanding of physiology, physiopathology, and anatomy with more experience and evidence-based knowledge to explain to my patients why things happen the way they do. Communication is the key in all aspects of our life and having better communication with our patients increases rates of success.

Alexis: What does World Health Day mean to you?

Dr. Suzzarini: This is a special day to recognize people that work with love every day to improve our world and patient care. No matter where you are from, we are all driving by love for humanity and science.

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