‘Revolutionizing’ Medicine: Connecticut Children’s Christine Finck
As one of a select few female surgeons-in-chief in the country, Dr. Christine Finck is revolutionizing children’s healthcare.
“We’re forging the frontiers of science,” Finck told an audience of more than 350 business leaders at CBIA’s annual When Women Lead conference May 18.
With her team at Connecticut Children’s, she is working on cutting-edge advancements in pediatric and fetal medicine.
“We’re looking at regrowing organs, especially lungs in the esophagus, mainly because premature lung disease is still a very big problem and will be what a baby succumbs to if they’re born early,” she said.
“It definitely enhances the care we can deliver to children and improve the quality of life as well as the survivability of so many different conditions.”
Passion for Pediatrics
Finck, who is also executive vice president and chief of the Division of Pediatric and Thoracic Surgery at Connecticut Children’s, knew at an early age that she wanted to go into healthcare.
“I think that resonates with my personality,” she said.
“I enjoy fast paced, I enjoy really thinking, and I enjoy that immediacy of doing something good for someone and seeing the rewards.”
Finck originally planned to be a trauma surgeon, before finding a passion for pediatric surgery while at SUNY Syracuse.
She eventually became the first female surgery fellow ever hired at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
‘Best, Worst Experience’
She said her time in Arkansas was both the best and worst experience of her life.
During the second year of her fellowship, her first husband passed away after suffering a brain tumor.
“I can’t speak more highly of Arkansas Children’s,” she said. “The nurses rallied around me like you would not believe and really kind of pushed me through.”
Finck said she wished she told herself it would have been okay to pause her fellowship and take care of herself while her husband was in hospice care.
But she finished her fellowship, thanks in part to the passion for her work with children.
“I always knew I wanted to take care of children and I always knew this was the field for me and so that’s what got me through,” she said.
Along with personal challenges, Finck also faced challenges early in her career breaking into a male-dominated field.
“One of my male counterparts at one point pulled me aside and said, ‘Look, you have to work harder and longer than anybody else here because you’re being judged that much more,’” she said.
“For me, if somebody tells me I can’t do something, I’m definitely going to do it.
“And so I just put my head down, and I worked as hard and as long as I could.”
Finck said that despite those challenges, she’s been welcomed with open arms by colleagues and families throughout her career.
“Those families resonated with having a female at the helm taking care of them and their children,” she said.
Now, with two decades of experience, Finck says she’s proud to be part of the team at Connecticut Children’s.
“The vision has always been optimizing care for children,” she said.
“Whether it’s within the community, whether it’s keeping them safe, whether it’s combating medical diseases, to help in the homes, or whether it’s in all the things we do in the surgical field like novel therapies for obesity or for congenital diseases, they have always been there to support and to grow it.”
Finck said she moved to Connecticut to be closer to family after she and her husband adopted their first daughter.
“She actually was a patient of mine, and was really, really sick and her parents couldn’t take care of her,” Finck said.
“And so my husband and I had been trying, one of the things that we suffer from in the medical field is infertility because you’re old by the time you tried to have children, and so we adopted Isabel who just graduated from high school.”
It’s having that support from family and at work that Finck says is key to balancing her career and family that now includes three children.
“I surround myself with really good people,” she said.
“You can’t do it all on your own, and from the minute I hit the doors at Connecticut Children’s they were incredibly supportive.”
“I’m always juggling everything,” said Pullman & Comley’s Megan Carannante, who moderated the discussion.
“And I don’t really know if there is such a thing as balanced,” she said.
“I don’t think balance is the right word,” Finck said. “I think it’s prioritize—what needs your attention the most, and focus on that.”
‘Can Never Have It All’
Finck said she’s learned that “you can never have it all, and you have to be okay with that.”
She said she finds time to spend with each of her children and have moments together.
“The best thing you can do for your children is to love them,” she said, “and try to encourage them in the path that they’re going in.”
Finck is also encouraging the next generation of medical professionals, working with students from schools including the University of Connecticut, Trinity, and Quinnipiac.
“I always said, ‘I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and I’m hoping that the next generation gets to stand on some pretty strong shoulders to continue to move the field in positive ways,’” she said.
Despite her successes, Finck has dealt with tragedy in her work as well.
She described taking care of a six-year-old with third degree burns over his whole body after an accident with a lighter.
“It took the life out of me,” she said. “And I remember calling my mom and being like ‘I’m gonna be an accountant, I’m done.’”
“But we all go through hardships—I mean nobody’s job is perfect.
“And it’s really just making sure that you’re following your heart and doing what you think is true to yourself.”
For Finck, that means taking care of children, and spending time with patients and families.
“Just seeing a kid get better,” she said, “there’s nothing better in the world than that.”
When Women Lead was produced by CBIA in collaboration with the Women’s Business Development Council and made possible through the generous support of KeyBank, Shipman & Goodwin, Sun Life, and Pullman & Comley LLC.
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