Pediatric Urologist Dana Giel, MD, has never been one to take the path of least resistance.
As a child, she played on all-boys sports teams because her dad thought it would be more challenging. As a college biology major, she chose a second major in political science when room on her schedule opened up. And as a medical student, she became only the third female in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s history to pursue a urology residency.
She credits her parents for pushing her and encouraging her along the way.
“My parents were my biggest supporters. In a very loving way, they would encourage me to take everything one step further and helped me never to limit my expectations,” said Giel.
Born and raised in Memphis, Giel returned to her hometown for medical school after completing undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University. Since her earliest memory, she had wanted to be a doctor and planned on becoming a pediatrician – until she was introduced to pediatric urology during the final week of her urology rotation.
“It was like the heavens opened up. It was the perfect combination of surgery and clinical practice,” said Giel. Her choice became clear, and so began Giel’s path as a pediatric urologist.
Today, Giel serves as director of Le Bonheur’s Pediatric Urology Fellowship Program, where she is able to pass on her love for the field to other students. She enjoys mentoring and says that training the next generation of pediatric urologists has become one of her biggest passions. “I have been fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my professional life, and I want to pay it forward by doing the same for others,” Giel said.
Two of her main takeaways for students: medicine takes teamwork, and always choose what’s right – even if it’s the harder choice. “Essentially, I tell, or hope that I show, our students, residents and fellows that they should practice medicine the same way they practice life – respect and love people, and treat others the way you want to be treated.”
It’s those lessons that have pushed Giel toward her latest endeavor. She spent three years working alongside Pediatric Endocrinologist Alicia Diaz-Thomas, MD, to formalize a program that’s near and dear to her heart: Le Bonheur’s OPTIonS Clinic. The multidisciplinary program cares for patients with disorders of sex differentiation. It is one of only a handful of its kind in the country that participates in the multicenter research and patient care collaborative Disorders of Sex Development Translational Research Network (DSD-TRN). This network strives to set standards of care for patients and their families. The Le Bonheur OPTIonS Clinic is the only participating clinic in the southeast region.
The clinic offers pediatric urology, pediatric endocrinology, genetics, medical ethics, psychology and psychiatry services. The team meets before each clinic to collaboratively discuss patients’ cases and determine the best plans of care. It’s a coordinated, family-centered approach for patients facing a difficult diagnosis.
Disorders of sex differentiation (DSD), also known as differences of sex development, are rare and complicated, says Giel.
“Everything about DSD – from the patient’s genetic makeup to his or her physical appearance – is complex,” said Giel. “It’s not just a hormonal or a physical issue; it’s a heart, mind and soul issue. Families are facing complicated issues like how to explain the diagnosis to their child or extended family, how dating will be or if they can have children in the future.”
Since its inception in April 2017, the OPTIonS Clinic has grown, adding more patients and increasing its frequency. The team now sees patients once every other month, and the need is still expanding, says Giel.
“It’s the way medicine is supposed to work,” said Giel. “Working with others, you can make a bigger, better impact than you can working alone.”
This philosophy is one that Giel also ascribes to her clinical research as well. As the director of research for the division of pediatric urology, she states that her most productive and rewarding research projects are those where she has collaborated with other specialties at Le Bonheur and colleagues around the country to obtain the most meaningful results for presentation and publication.
When Giel’s not in clinic or in the operating room, she can be found at one of her 11-year-old son, Maddox’s, many sports practices and games or at a Memphis Grizzlies game during basketball season.
She and husband, Tom, an orthopedic surgeon, have a deep love for the city of Memphis and all it offers. They have a passion for helping others that goes back to the values Giel’s parents instilled in her.
“It’s a city that’s on the move up, and it’s easy to be part of the change here,” said Giel. “We feel we can really make a mark on the community here.”
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