Dean History: Dr. Kathryn Nichol- Dean - WI

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Dean History: Dr. Kathryn Nichol

Dr. Kathryn NicholDr. Kathryn Nichol: Saving Children’s Lives One Car Seat at a Time

Kathryn Nichol faced many challenges in her journey to become a physician during a time when being a female and a doctor was considered undesirable in many circles. “I can remember when, as a high school senior, I decided I wanted to go to medical school and 99 percent of the people I talked to thought it was a dumb idea,” said Nichol.

Later, she was advised against choosing pediatrics. “You’re never going to have time for yourself, all of those middle-of-the-night calls.” Despite the lack of encouragement, she became a pediatrician, and in 1970 became the first female pediatrician for the Dean Clinic.

Silencing the doubters

Dr. Nichol trained in pediatrics when women were barely tolerated anomalies in the medical profession. Many of her male peers in medical school felt that a medical education was wasted on women because they would eventually drop out of medicine to raise a family.

Instead, Dr. Nichol found ways to continue her practice while making accommodations for the family she would raise. Not only was she able to successfully balance work and family, but in 1990 she became the first woman in the 78-year history of St. Mary’s Hospital to be named Chief of Staff.

Crusading for child car safety

Believing that hospitals aren’t limited to saving lives through medicine, Dr. Nichol pioneered a campaign in local hospitals to institute car seat programs in 1979, three years before Wisconsin passed its car restraint law requiring protective car seats for young children. The statistics and her personal experiences made the need for such an initiative crystal clear.

“Safety restraints could prevent 90-percent of auto deaths or 80-percent of serious injury in children. Only 10-percent of children riding in cars were protected by safety restraints. Automobile accidents were the leading cause of death of children from infancy to six years of age.” Dr. Nichol said. “You only have to see a few injured infants in the hospital to get the message.”

Infant car seats program

As a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she supported their efforts to make infant safety in car seats a reality in each state through a nationwide program called “The First Ride, a Safe Ride.” Dr. Nichol was impressed by the success of programs in other states. A member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, she recognized it as an excellent organization to implement such a program. With the full commitment of the Dane County Red Cross, she helped launch the K.I.S.S (Keep Infants Seated Safe) program.

Essentially, the program was set up to loan infant car seats to new parents. A volunteer would visit a new mother in the hospital and invite her to an education session that included the showing of the film “The Perfect Gift,” a discussion and demonstration of the use of an infant car seat. Any mother who chose to participate in the program received an approved car seat for a six-month loan fee of $10, with $7 refunded when the seat was returned.

The program was so successful that Dr. Nichol soon was asked to unite her program with the accident prevention efforts of the Wisconsin Academy of Pediatrics. The idea quickly grew statewide with Dr. Nichol as chief spokesperson. By October 1983, parents of more than 21,000 children took advantage of the car seat loan and education programs at one of 85 hospitals in the state.

Honoring her efforts

In recognition of her work developing infant and toddler car safety programs throughout Wisconsin, Dr. Nichol was named pediatrician of the year in 1982 by the Wisconsin Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics, and woman of the year by the National Safety Council.

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