Beth Tarini, MD, MS

Beth Tarini
I hope that parents leave my clinic feeling more empowered and more informed about their child's health.
Beth Tarini, MD, MS

About

Meet Beth Tarini, MD, MS

Beth Tarini, MD, MS, is division director of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine. She came to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital from Michigan in 2016. Her research centers around newborn screening and genetic testing. She sees patients at all pediatric primary care locations.

What influenced your career choice?

I grew up in a household where the hospital was a common topic of discussion. My mother worked at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut as the manager of medical records (now called health information management). As a result, a career in medicine seemed like a logical path. I remember from a young age—8 or 9—that when people asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d say, “A doctor.” In addition, medical environments were familiar spaces for me. For example, I remember sitting in the pediatrician’s office as a young child and being drawn to his comforting demeanor and being interested in his activities.

So you knew since a young age that you wanted to be a pediatrician?

I didn’t have much exposure to younger children growing up. I was an only child, and the youngest of all the cousins. Since taking care of children had not been a significant part of my life—and I hadn’t felt like I had missed out—I just assumed that I wasn’t “pediatrician material.” And so when I went to med school, I thought I would pursue a career in internal medicine. It seemed to be intellectually rigorous and required a deep understanding of physiology.

But in the spring of my third year of med school, I did my pediatrics rotation and thought, “Maybe I would like to be a pediatrician.” There were a number of reasons for this shift. First, I worked in a hospital with a number of pediatric subspecialists. We had some very sick children, so I felt like we were making an immediate difference in their lives. Second, I enjoyed interacting with the children. And finally, I enjoyed the collegial and accessible demeanor of the pediatricians whom I encountered.  

What attracted you to Iowa?

I came to Iowa for the opportunity to be part of a department that is undergoing a renaissance. We are growing by leaps and bounds in our clinical, education, and research activities. We are building a new children’s hospital. All of this has generated a lot of positive energy, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What do you like about your job?

My favorite part, I would say, is effecting meaningful and useful change across all of our missions—research, education and clinical. In my current job, I can work to effect change on an administrative level by improving organizational processes and on a clinical level by seeing patients. I also can help effect change on a research level by identifying evidence-based ways in which we can improve the care we deliver—and ultimately the health of our patients and their families.

Describe your research interests.

I do health services research. This means that I study how the system by which we deliver care affects health outcomes and identify ways to improve the system. That system can be anything from the way in which a patient is insured to the way the doctor communicates with you. The system is an important part of health care that is often overlooked. My specific research interest is in how technology affects how people think about health. In the case of newborn screening, I study if and how the experience of a false positive can have lasting effects on a parent’s view of their child’s health. I also look at diagnostic dilemmas—situations where there is persistent uncertainty that can create significant stress. I came to the University of Iowa because it provided an opportunity to expand my research and help develop the careers of other physician-investigators.

Tell us how your childhood interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder intersected with your medical career.

When I was in my pediatrics rotation during medical school, the supervising physician was teaching us about scarlet fever. I had read all the “Little House” books as a child and knew that Laura’s sister, Mary, had gone blind from scarlet fever. So I asked about scarlet fever causing blindness, and the physician said it didn’t, although I could tell that she saw the same contradiction that I saw. Why did the books, which were written about a real-life family, say this?

I started dusting off old medical books in the library stacks to see if scarlet fever was different during the Ingalls’ lifetime—whether it caused different complications. I also read Laura’s memoirs that the Little House books were based on. I put the project on the shelf for a decade and came back to it a few years ago. My research assistant at that time helped me find other materials, including a newspaper article from 1879 that described Mary Ingalls’ illness.

Putting my head together with other colleagues, we concluded that Mary most likely suffered from meningoencephalitis–an infection of the brain and the tissues surrounding the brain. We wrote a paper that was published in a pediatric journal titled “Blindness in Walnut Grove: How Did Mary Ingalls Lose Her Sight?” The paper was very well received. It was picked up by the general media, and I was interviewed by NPR and a variety of newspapers and magazines. I was invited to speak at LauraPalooza [a conference for Laura fans and academics] in 2015. I have considered looking into other health issues in the Ingalls family, but have not pursued anything yet.

Languages

English

Pediatric Medical Services

Pediatric Specialties

  • Primary care
  • General Pediatrics

Special Procedures

Newborn genetic screening

Credentials

Degrees

  • MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York
  • MS, University of Washington, Seattle

Residencies

Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle

Fellowships

Health Services, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, Seattle

Department

Pediatrics ( Academic Profile )

Associate Professor