Christina Szperka: Member Spotlight
October Member Spotlight honoree Szperka discusses what drives her work in pediatric headache treatment
This month, the American Headache Society is proud to spotlight Christina Szperka, MD, MSCE, FAHS, an AHS member whose work focuses on pediatric care. She is the Chair of the Clinical Informatics Special Interest Section, and also participates in the Pediatric-Adolescent Headache and the Procedural Headache Medicine Special Interest Sections.
Szperka’s interest in headache medicine comes from a personal place. She is the parent of two children with migraine, and also developed chronic pain during her sophomore year of college. She says “it turned my life upside down.” But after working through this experience, she says she emerged stronger.
“I became a physician to use that experience for the benefit of my patients,” she says.
An Underserved Population
Though she initially intended to go into general chronic pain, her residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia led Szperka to children and teens with chronic migraine. She realized during her time with this patient population just how undertreated it was. Through rotations at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Headache Center and a fellowship at Jefferson Headache Center, she recognized that there was so much that could be done to help. Part of that help comes from teaching others in her field about migraine and headache disorders.
“Headache can be a symptom of many conditions, so it’s important to distinguish primary and secondary headaches,” Szperka says. “Migraine is underdiagnosed and undertreated—why should patients suffer when we have the tools to help?”
Recognizing that pediatric migraine patients are an underserved population has led to Szperka’s work on multiple efforts. She led the development of the Pediatric Headache Program at CHOP. This is a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary headache program intended to improve the care of children with severe, chronic headaches. This push, she says, also improved the care of children with more “routine” headache disorders. Her other efforts include developing Migraine Youth Camp for children with migraine and their parents. She also helped create a large patient registry that captures data from electronic medical records to help physicians learn from the care already being provided. She hopes this will influence the improvement of care over time.
There is still work to be done, but Szperka says there is a way forward for pediatric migraine patients.
“We’ve learned essentially that there are things you can do for these children,” Szperka says. “Kids with headache don’t have to suffer indefinitely. There are various things we can do to try and help them so that they’re not disabled by their pain.”
About Christina Szperka
Name: Christina Szperka, MD, MSCE, FAHS
AHS Membership: Member since 2010
Primary: Director, Pediatric Headache Program, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Quote: I have been very lucky to have a lot of excellent mentors through the American Headache Society. I’ve met other people who helped to connect my interests and help me guide my career. I’ve really learned to spread my wings and stretch and try different things. They’ve been very, very supportive.