Tracy Zaslow, MD
Take a Step Back to Move Forward
Tracy Zaslow, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, grew up in Los Angeles. She earned degrees in biochemistry and cell biology at the University of California, San Diego. After earning her medical degree at New York Medical College, Zaslow entered the field of pediatrics and completed her internship, residency and chief residency at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She completed her fellowship in primary care sports medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2007. Zaslow says that a lesson she learned as a 6-year-old remains with her as she cares for children: “When I was 6, I hit my head on a coffee table and had to get stitches. They numbed me up and I remember the doctor doing the stitches, and then at the end he gave me a surgical glove blown up with a happy face on it. That was such an impressionable moment. It inspires me to always remember to do those little extra things that make kids feel better.”
1. What did you say when you were a young girl and someone asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
While initially I was interested in emulating characters as EMTs on the TV show “Emergency” or CHP officers like on “CHiPs,” the draw to help others by working as a doctor became my No. 1 goal before adolescence.
2. When did you realize you wanted to be a doctor?
Around 10 years old, I decided to be a doctor and that was that. I remember sitting at a lunch table with my mom and telling her, “When I grow up, I think I’m going to be a doctor.” I’m not sure exactly what led me to that, but since then, I have been interested in everything medicine related. The game Operation was my favorite game for a long time. My sister was six years younger, so I liked the idea of taking care of her. I would help her when she’d get a boo-boo. I’d run and grab the Bactine and Band-Aids and get her all patched up. Every summer I’d find some medical activity to fill my time: working with Special Olympics athletes, shadowing doctors, participating in the Los Angeles Pediatric Society Gene Black Summer Intern Program. One summer I volunteered with my grandfather, a cardiologist, and I was fascinated watching him do electrocardiograms and echo stress tests.
3. Name a challenge you faced in your journey to where you are now.
While I completed a study abroad year in England, it was my junior year—time to get my medical school application prepared. I’d done my MCAT early so I’d be ready to apply. But for the first time in my life I was completely unmotivated to get the application done. It forced me to really take a step back and consider my current path: Did I not want to pursue a career in medicine? Was there something else I’d prefer? This introspection helped me realize that medicine truly was the career I wanted, but I still wanted a little more time to explore more in life. I decided to take a year off, live on the East Coast and enjoy bench research before diving into my career. From there it was full steam ahead to become a doctor as I enthusiastically completed my application one year later. And I learned so much during my gap year that gave me better perspective through my training and ultimately in my career.
4. Did anyone say to you, "You can’t do that because you’re a girl?"
I remember when I was in my sports medicine fellowship, we’d get to games hours ahead of time. We would hang out on the field and the attending would always play catch, throwing the football with the other fellows—the other male fellows. But whenever I was out there, he never would throw the ball with me. I would end up throwing the ball with someone else. I always laughed it off, but it still felt like an old boys’ club.
5. What would you tell a young girl right now who wants to be a doctor?
I love medicine and I think it’s a great field for women because it’s constant learning and it’s a field that you can really make a difference in. And you can still have a work-life balance. You can choose how much difference you want to make, how much time you want to give to the many different potential roles (clinician, researcher, administrator, educator). You can ramp it up and down throughout your career. You have flexibility, and you can have a rewarding career.
Tracy Zaslow, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, is medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at the Children’s Orthopaedic Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and director of the Center’s Sports Concussion Program and fellowship director of Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship Program. In addition to her clinical and research work at CHLA, she is an assistant professor of Clinical Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and a team physician for the LA Galaxy.