Children’s Hospital of San Antonio—Building a New Community for Excellence in Pediatric Health Care

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nearly one year after the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio announced its partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, dramatic changes in staff are propelling the hospital quickly forward.

You might even say the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is on a hiring spree, with nearly 100 new doctors in place and plans to add 100 more by this time next year.

The very first faculty member to join the team was Mark Gilger, MD, Children’s Hospital of San Antonio’s first Pediatrician-in-Chief. He is a Vice Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and is board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology. He is a Fellow of the American Academy
of Pediatrics.

New Faces, New Specialties and Services

He may have been the first of the Baylor faculty to join Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, but Dr. Gilger wasn’t alone for long. Among the first group hired was a high-caliber team of 10 pediatric hospitalists led by Baylor College of Medicine Associate Professor Ricardo Quinonez, MD, who came from Texas Children’s Hospital.

Particularly significant about hiring the hospitalist group is that a pediatrician is in the hospital and on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Formerly, pediatricians were on call, but this commitment of around-the-clock care by the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is indicative of its bigger pledge to provide the city with pediatric subspecialists who have never before been available locally.

For example, the community has never had a pediatric adolescent and bariatric medicine specialist, but with the addition of Suzanne Cuda, MD, another area of medicine is now available to families who would otherwise have left San Antonio for diagnosis and treatment. In a matter of weeks, patients were eagerly visiting Dr. Cuda’s clinic, a sign of what’s ahead for Dr. Gilger as he continues to recruit talent.

Patient Room
An artistic rendering of a patient room at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

“I am looking for two things in faculty for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio,” Dr. Gilger says. “First, I’m searching for top-quality physicians. Second, I’m looking for people who want to help us build this community, knowing we have a lot of work to do. I want them to be part of building something special for San Antonio.”

Dr. Gilger hasn’t had to work too hard to spread the word about hiring for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Almost immediately after the partnership was announced, he started getting inquiries from around the state, then from farther afield. Now, it’s self-generating;
Dr. Gilger receives inquiries every day from physicians who are interested in joining the new team.

“We are recruiting nationally and have already hired physicians from both coasts and gone international with our efforts,” he says. “One thing that is clear is that the Baylor name is attractive. They know it in Texas, and they know it nationally.”

By late 2013, nearly all the section heads were in place for key programs, including critical care, infectious disease, pulmonology, endocrinology, genetics, emergency medicine, dermatology, cardiothoracic surgery, allergy and immunology, and adolescent and bariatric medicine. By early 2014, Dr. Gilger hopes to add section heads in neurology, nephrology and behavioral health.

“We have lots of work to do to increase the number of subspecialists here in San Antonio,” he says. “There are just too few right now.”

At the rate that physicians are being added to the staff at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, that means eight to 10 new faces each month for all of 2014.

Teaching the Next Generation of Physicians

In the heart of downtown, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is transforming into a world-class center for pediatric care.

Physicians aren’t the only new faces that will be present on campus beginning in January. Baylor College of Medicine recently confirmed that some of its medical students will arrive to do four-week clinical rotations, far in advance of the start of Baylor’s formal residency program at the hospital in 2015.

“That’s a huge surprise and delight to me. We were really anticipating Baylor College of Medicine students by summer, so when it was announced that Children’s Hospital of San Antonio was ready to receive Baylor students for clinical work, we had a remarkable response,” Dr. Gilger says. “We have 23 students who will begin arriving in January, and I anticipate that will increase in the coming months. I think that tells you the city of San Antonio is attractive to future physicians.”

The rapid pace at which things are happening downtown is music to the ears of one faculty member who has been waiting a long time for a freestanding children’s hospital here. Richard Wayne, MD, who left private practice in 1991 to be the administrator of the then CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, is thrilled about the campus, and he’s even more excited about the partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

“I thought we were going to get a children’s hospital back in 1991, so I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” says Dr. Wayne, who also serves as a Professor of Pediatrics with Baylor College of Medicine. “The caliber of people coming from really renowned institutions to join our community here is phenomenal. I think the attraction for them is Baylor, which has a stellar reputation nationally. The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a freestanding children’s hospital is also very compelling.”

Benefits of an Open Staff Model

One thing that hasn’t changed is the pursuit of an open staff model, which began when Dr. Wayne was chief administrator and is a tradition that will continue in a big way at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. This method has advantages for the medical staff, but the real winners are the patients.

“As a hospital medicine physician, I have direct access to my patients’ subspecialists. This environment is critical to decreasing the fragmentation of services and care that we have unfortunately seen in the past,” says Vanessa Hill, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. “If a complex patient is admitted, all team members can directly care for that patient. Communication is absolutely improved, and the patients and their families directly receive a positive impact.”

The model also increases the flow of information and expertise across the entire community.

“Our colleagues in the community now have access to a top-tier children’s hospital in which to care for their patients. If for some reason those patients and physicians need assistance from highly specialized services, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio can meet those needs, as well,” Dr. Hill says. “Additionally, an open staff model allows for community physicians to have access to standardized, evidence-based protocols that have been implemented successfully at our hospital.”

Echoing that sentiment is Michelle Barajaz, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with Baylor College of Medicine and Director of the Pediatric Residency Program, who takes an even longer-term view of the benefits of an open staff model to the future health of the San Antonio community.

“Physicians benefit from a growing network of intellectual partners who strive to take medical care in San Antonio to the next level. Research opportunities become richer as physicians gain access to what is inarguably one of the best pediatric centers in the country,” Dr. Barajaz says. “As we begin to train the next generation of Baylor College of Medicine pediatricians here in San Antonio, these training pediatricians also win by receiving an education which is broadened to include a generous complement of sites, practice models, academic mentors and physician educators to enhance and diversify their training experience.”

Taking Children’s Health to the Next Level

Mayor Visit
A visit by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro in August 2013 marked the official kickoff of the construction phase at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Mayor Castro praised the project for aligning with his SA2020 vision.

One thing is certain: The benefits of partnering with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital means the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is moving swiftly to take children’s health care to the highest level. This trio is building a new community of physicians and research programs, all while the campus is under construction but open for quality patient care.

“The building downtown is going to be extraordinary, but it’s not the building that’s important — it’s what’s inside the building,” Dr. Wayne says. “All good things are worth waiting for, and this far exceeds anything we ever dreamed.”

Dr. Gilger’s prediction for the future of the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio in this community is far-reaching.

“I see the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio as a true resource for the community. We will be a force to bring the community together — businesses, academics, social advocacy groups — to really study community problems and put solutions into action,” Dr. Gilger says. “We hope to teach not only the next generation of physicians how to be healthy and grow and prosper, but we also hope to share that same lesson with our children, parents and grandparents.”

To learn more about Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, please visit