Meet Dr. Katherine Williamson

CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC pediatrician.

Dr. Katherine Williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

Q: What is your education and training?
A: I studied international relations at Pomona College, then went on to the University of California, San Francisco to study medicine. I completed my pediatric residency training at CHOC Children’s.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?
A: I am the chair for pediatrics at Mission Hospital where my practice rounds on newborn babies. I am a partner within my practice at Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA), which is part of the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network. Within this network, I am the SOCPA lead for the IT team where we are beta testing a new electronic health record system to be used at CHOC Children’s and in the CHOC Primary Care Network.

Q: What advocacy work are you involved in?

A: I am the vice president for the Orange County chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, (AAP-OC) where we focus on child advocacy and serve as an academic and resource base for pediatricians and pediatric sub-specialists. Through our legislative advocacy efforts in the last few years, we have helped to pass SB 277 to keep kids vaccinated in California, and raise the smoking age for cigarettes and vaping from 18 to 21 years of age. On a community level, we have created a mental health committee bringing together pediatricians and mental health providers working to address the mental health needs of our Orange County youth. And we have newly created the School Health Committee where we are working to increase communication and collaboration between pediatricians and schools, with goals that include the creation of an electronic HIPAA-protected communication system between teachers and pediatricians, and to better understand how to address the unmet needs of children with learning disabilities.     

Q: What are your special clinical interests?
A:  Child nutrition and exercise, and healthy body image

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?
A: I did my pediatric residency at CHOC from 2008 to 2011, then stayed on staff as a transport physician which is still currently one of my roles. I joined my pediatric practice, Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA) in 2012, which has partnered with CHOC in the past year to form the CHOC Primary Care Network, thus keeping me in the CHOC family on many levels.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?
A: Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA), along with two other pediatric private practice groups in Orange County – Seaview Pediatrics and Pediatric & Adult Medicine – have partnered in the last year with CHOC Children’s to form the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network. I am very excited to be a part of this partnership because through our collaboration we can share the best evidence-based medicine practices and increase communication between CHOC inpatient services, sub-specialists, and children’s primary care practices, thus improving patient care. In the near future we will have a shared electronic health record system that unlike so many EHRs in the country will be geared toward pediatrics because we are designing it ourselves.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?
A:  Pharyngitis, bronchospasm, fever, otitis media, common cold, pneumonia, acne, jaundice

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you or your division at CHOC?
A: Kids come first! And all kids needs a medical home.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?
A: I have been a part of the CHOC family for many years, from residency through now, and I am inspired by CHOC’s multi-disciplinary team approach to take care of our kids. I have seen CHOC grow with the new tower, expansion of the specialty departments, and most recently CHOC’s extension to the community with the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network to reach out to kids in their medical home. It’s all about the kids!

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I believe every person has a right to quality health care, and I have been fascinated by the human body since I was a kid. Like I tell my patients, it’s the coolest machine you will ever own. I love being a part of keeping kids healthy, and I love teaching parents and kids about their own bodies so that they can take ownership in their health and well-being too.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?
A: One of two things, or maybe both – a journalist, and/or a Broadway performer. I loved to sing and act on stage much of my childhood, and I believe telling a story, whether fictional or non-fictional, is the best way to relate and reach out to others.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: Anything outdoors – running, swimming, biking, and scuba diving. And traveling abroad whenever I can.

Q: What have you learned from your patients, or what is the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?
A: I learn every day from my patients to find joy in the little things in life – from seeing how your finger lights up red when you touch the otoscope light to the wonders that bribery with stickers can do. I am laughing every day!

Looking for a pediatrician? Find one near you.

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How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently lifted their rule on no screen time for kids under the age of two. Given advances in technology, media is everywhere these days- it’s hard for kids to not get enthralled by a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

“The new guidelines reflect a shift in focus to include not only what is on the screen but also the involvement of the live person in the room to interact in the media experience,” Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, says. Though the AAP says it’s still best for babies less than 18 months to avoid screen time, live video chat is an exception. While babies under 18 months are too young to understand what they are seeing on media screens, some research has shown that babies as young as six months can emotionally engage and interact with a loved one on FaceTime or Skype, for example.

But how you know how much screen time is healthy for your child?

how much screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how much screen time is appropriate for children.

The AAP recommends creating a family media use plan to help your family establish a purpose to consuming media, create healthy habits for screen time, and stay on track with goals.

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Tick Bites: Fact vs. Fiction

Tick bites can be a common summer nuisance depending on where your activities or travels take you. Parents should be aware of common misconceptions related to ticks, says CHOC Children’s pediatrician Dr. Katherine Williamson.

Parents can help prevent tick bites: Fact

There are several things parents can do to help their children avoid tick bites.

  • Stay on a path when hiking
  • Wear long pants, and tuck pants into long socks
  • On clothes, use permethrin spray. On the skin, use insect repellent with 30 percent DEET. Be aware that this generally only lasts on the skin for one to two hours, so reapply often if you’re spending extended time outdoors.

Remove ticks by lighting a match near the arachnid: Fiction

This age-old myth can lead to accidental injuries, says Williamson, and should always be avoided. Instead, dip a cotton ball in liquid soap, and soak the tick for one to two minutes. Then locate the head of the tick and use a tweezers to pull it straight out. If the tick  is still latched on to the skin,  hold the head of the tick straight out for 30-60 seconds and it will release from the skin. Then drop the tick into a jar of rubbing alcohol to eliminate it. If the tick is too small to grab with a tweezers, use a credit card or popsicle stick to slide it off the skin. Most tick bites don’t result in any symptoms or side effects, and removal at home is sufficient care.

Tick bites lead to Lyme disease: Rarely

The likelihood of contracting Lyme disease via a tick bite in southern California is extremely small, says Williamson.  There are many variations of ticks and only one- deer ticks, not commonly found in this region- transmits Lyme disease. Since deer ticks are tiny, they are easily missed.  Always do a full body check for ticks after going outdoors, and pay close attention to the head, neck and scalp, since ticks gravitate to those areas.

Consult your pediatrician if you cannot remove the tick in its entirety, or if your child becomes symptomatic. Lyme disease symptoms include fever, muscle aches, joint aches and headaches. If you were recently in an area known for deer ticks, most notably the northeastern United States or the upper Midwest, watch out for small red rings one to two inches from a possible bite site, which may be a sign of Lyme disease. Treatment includes one to two weeks of antibiotics, and most children make a complete recovery with no complications.

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New Vaccination Law: What it Means for Your Family

Echoing longstanding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting childhood immunizations, a new vaccination law in California eliminates the ability to cite a ‘personal belief exemption’ from mandatory childhood vaccinations. This means that in order to be enrolled in public or private child care centers,  preschools, primary or secondary schools, children must be vaccinated against the following  10 diseases: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (bacterial meningitis), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox. We spoke to Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, on what this new vaccination law means for children and families.

Dr. Katherine Roberts
Dr. Katherine Williamson

Q: What does California’s new vaccination law mean for children and families?

A: Some parents think that this means vaccines are now mandatory- but for decades, every state in the U.S. has required that children be vaccinated against certain diseases. This change means that personal belief exemptions to these long-standing mandatory vaccines can no longer be applied. It will make schools a safer place for children- those who are already healthy, and those who are immunocompromised. California is not an anomaly in creating a law such as this. Many other states have already adopted similar laws, and results in those places show that they’ve been successful in preventing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

Q: Why is it important for parents to follow the immunization schedule outlined by the AAP?

A: The current immunization schedule outlined by the AAP and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. It’s important to know that there’s no existing alternative schedule that has been studied to show it’s as safe and effective.

I get frequent questions from expectant and new parents who are concerned about the number of vaccines given to kids at one time under this schedule. The amount of antigen in the vaccine that is put into their child’s body is 10,000 to 100,000 times less than if they just got a common cold, so there’s no chance of overwhelming their immune system.

Q: How do medical exemptions affect children through this new law?

A: Medical exemptions to vaccines are not common, but children that qualify would still be exempt, as they are immunocompromised, or in even less frequent instances, they have allergic reactions to vaccines. Children with medical exemptions will be in a much safer position because they won’t be surrounded by other kids who could pass on a fatal dose of measles, for example.

Q: How do vaccines fit into a patient’s overall lifelong medical care?

A: Vaccines and proper hand washing, more so than all other interventions, have proven to be among the most safe and effective ways to prevent disease.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with parents about vaccines?

A: All diseases for which kids are vaccinated in U.S. have the potential to be fatal, and we still see instances of these diseases. While some are in higher rates than others, all have increased in frequency in areas where children are not vaccinated, and international travel makes even diseases such as polio a potential risk.

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How to Treat Poison Oak this Summer

Contrary to a common misconception, poison oak is a different nuisance than its counterpart, poison ivy. In southern California and throughout the West Coast, outdoor explorers can expect to find poison oak in wooded, brushy areas. In the northeast, you will find poison ivy, and in the southeast, poison sumac.

The best way to avoid poison oak is to stay on a path when outdoors this summer, since poison oak can be hidden in brushy areas. Wear long pants and socks, and avoid off-roading, advises Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician.

Poison oak causes a contact dermatitis that is spread onto the skin from the plant oils. A rash and itchy irritation are common side effects of a poison oak exposure. These plants cause a delayed reaction, so symptoms may appear anywhere from a few hours to a few days later, potentially creating confusion on their cause. The itching may last for a few days, and the rash may be apparent for up to two weeks. Unfortunately, while nothing will make the  red weepy rash go away faster, says Williamson, but topical calamine lotion may provide relief from the intense itching, which can last for a few days. Hydrocortisone cream may also alleviate symptoms, and can be used in conjunction with topical calamine lotion, she adds. For severe cases, oral antihistamines can help. Consult your pediatrician on specific questions related to any medication regimen.

If you think you have been exposed to poison oak, it is important to thoroughly wash anything that may be have been exposed to the plant oils which can spread to the skin if touched again:

  • Wash yourself and the clothes you were wearing at the time of exposure
  • Use soapy water to wash down your shoes, including laces
  • Wash or wipe down coat

It’s important for parents to remember that poison oak dermatitis, although inconvenient, is not contagious, so there is no reason to keep kids home from school if they have poison oak.

If the affected area becomes puffy, painful or at-home remedies do not alleviate itching, consult your pediatrician, as those may be signs of a skin infection. Topical or oral antibiotics may be prescribed. In rare cases, oral steroids may be needed.

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