Kristina Adams Waldorf, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN), sees about 25 patients a day.
Most of her patients don’t know anything about her research life, even though she is an internationally recognized expert in pregnancy infections and spends about 75% of her work time in the lab.
And she is OK with that; she wants to focus on being their doctor and helping them with a wide range of problems in women’s health.
Improving maternal-fetal health
But Adams Waldorf is a research rock star. With her colleague Michael Gale Jr., PhD, director of Center for Innate Immunity and Disease, she has received $19 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2019 and spurred a new research program on maternal-fetal health. This funding was also obtained with Lakshmi Rajagopal, a professor of pediatrics at UW School of Medicine and a scientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Their research focuses on how viruses and bacteria attack the fetus and how this affects maternal health. Specifically, how viruses like Zika are recognized by the immune response in pregnancy and how this response to disease can sometimes cause pregnancy complications.
“Pregnancy is so mysterious and there is much we don’t understand, but the inflammation and immune response of the mother and the fetus are the key to preventing preterm birth and injuries to the fetus,” says Adams Waldorf.
Fostering academic and clinical goals
Adams Waldorf attended the University of Washington for undergraduate school, where she worked in a virology lab and fell in love with research. After graduating from Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, she came back to UW Medicine for her OB-GYN residency and ended up staying on as a clinician, researcher and faculty member.
“UW Medicine is a premier institution not only for medicine but also for research. My ability to combine my clinical practice with a world-class research program would be extremely difficult to do in any other place,” says Adams Waldorf.
Mentoring women in STEM
Adams Waldorf is dedicated to her research, but also to being a mentor for women in STEM. Growing up, she didn’t have many female role models in science.
“My dad was the one who helped develop my interest in science and encouraged me to try things I didn’t think I could do,” says Adams Waldorf. “He shattered all my glass ceilings.”
Now Adams Waldorf wants to help other women shatter their own glass ceilings in STEM.
In the clinic and as a faculty member, Adams Waldorf is vocal with her female mentees about how she balances work and family. Her office is also covered in her daughters’ artwork — a message to her trainees that she also has a family. She wants young women and junior scientists to see other women in STEM, picture themselves in those roles and persevere.
Since she believes women should have role models in every stage of their life, her mentorship isn’t limited to the lab. For the past six years, she has led her two daughters' Girl Scout troop — and it’s not all camping trips and Girl Scout cookies.
Adams Waldorf takes the troop indoor skydiving and to high ropes courses, Lego robotics competitions, and the UW Friday Harbor Laboratories to study marine biology. She recently took the troop, for the second time, to the WWAMI Institute for Simulation in Healthcare (WISH) to run them through surgical simulations.
“The message that I am trying to send is that they can truly do anything,” says Adams Waldorf. “Keep going and don’t give up."