In mid-August, Dr. Terrie Inder will make her way to Chicago from her home in Boston where, for the last nine years, she has served with great distinction as chair of pediatric newborn medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a major teaching hospital at Harvard Medical School.
From there, she will hop in her SUV with her dog, a mini-Goldendoodle named Oscar – “thirty pounds of pure love,” as she describes him – and drive historic Route 66 to California, windows down and sunroof open while listening to a playlist created by her son, Fergus, 28, a musical theater performer and literary agent.
Driving Route 66 will be a first for Dr. Inder – fitting for a doctor with a history of blazing new trails in pediatric healthcare who is internationally known for her clinical and scholarly innovation, leadership, and mentoring.
“There’s been a lot of tears over the last several days,” she says after word of her hiring, effective Sept. 1, spread at Brigham and Women’s.
Dr. Inder also feels excited about joining CHOC.
She decided to accept the job offer after visiting the campus in March and meeting new friends as well as seeing old ones she trained with back in the late 1990s while a resident in child neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Despite being heavily recruited by some of the nation’s top pediatric healthcare systems, Dr. Inder, a dual-boarded neonatologist and child neurologist, selected CHOC because of its people and culture.
“Everyone I met was there for what I believe is the right reason: to make a difference in the lives of babies, children, and families,” she says. “You can feel it.”
Neonatology advancements and transformation
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital and, before that, at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Dr. Inder has spearheaded transformation – something she plans to continue at CHOC.
At St. Louis Children’s, her many accomplishments include founding the Washington University Neonatal Development Research team and securing National Institutes of Health funding to establish a novel Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center that served over 55 investigators.
In Boston, Dr. Inder assisted with rebuilding a new clinical facility with a unique design system optimizing differing models of care, established a neonatal transport program, increased research funding by tenfold, and opened a state-of-the-art NICU with single-family rooms and a first-of-its-kind, dedicated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system that expanded neurocritical care for babies.
In Orange, Dr. Inder will develop and lead the new Center of Neonatal Research at CHOC, made possible by a generous donor gift. An expert in the development of the newborn brain, she will oversee the advancement of scientific studies to improve clinical outcomes in neonatal-perinatal medicine.
In collaboration with UCI Health, Dr. Inder will coordinate participation at conferences, develop doctoral and post-doctoral programs, recruit research scientists, and provide research opportunities for residents and fellows.
She also will mentor a staff of 80 neonatologists based at CHOC, UCI and a network of NICUs and birthing centers totaling more than 300 NICU beds and nearly 50,000 births a year.
“I’ve had the privilege of really enjoying building up programs, and my research spans what I will hopefully bring to CHOC, which is coming up with answers to clinical and translational questions that influence the way we deliver care,” she says.
Dr. Inder’s inspiration
Growing up in New Zealand, the future Dr. Inder was inspired to go into medicine because of a kind doctor, John Bird, who cared for her family.
Dr. Bird would visit her home so Terrie’s mother, raising four children, didn’t have to haul the kids to his office. Her mother didn’t finish high school and her husband, a builder and entrepreneur, didn’t go to college. They made their children’s education their top priority.
And Terrie never forgot Dr. Bird.
“He was a very caring human,” she recalls. “He delivered me and looked after me up until I went into medical school.”
Terrie attended medical school at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, with plans to become a family doctor like the man who inspired her. However, during her training, she became drawn to pediatrics.
“I saw children and babies as having such enormous inner strength in their spirit and their desire to live well without all the social complexity that sometimes we have in our lives,” she says. “Their simplicity of spirit brought both joy and, sometimes, unfortunately, sadness.”
Dr. Inder’s compassion, coupled with her clinical and technical skills, found her gravitating toward neonatal intensive care. She also discovered a passion for research.
A landmark book, “Volpe’s Neurology of the Newborn,” by Dr. Joseph Volpe, changed the trajectory of her career.
“I really wanted to know more, so I looked him up and found him in the U.S. and rang him and asked him if I could train with him,” Dr. Inder recalls.
Dr. Volpe invited her to Boston Children’s, where she completed her residency in 1999. During that three-year program, she met Dr. Terry Sanger, now CHOC’s chief scientific officer, and Dr. Tom Megerian, medical director of the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC.
During her residency, Dr. Inder became particularly interested in the brains of newborns. And that has remained her focus of research.
After her residency, Dr. Inder returned to New Zealand to have her third child, then spent five years at Royal Women’s Children’s Hospital. There, she founded a novel MRI facility.
She returned to the U.S. in 2005 to St. Louis Children’s, where she spent eight years before accepting her position in Boston in 2013.
Coming to CHOC
Dr. Inder says the timing was right to come to CHOC.
“I came to Boston to develop a program and enable success, and I feel like the main reason I was brought here has been accomplished,” she says. “It’s time to hand things over because the foundations are in place and the department continues to grow, and I wanted to take on a new challenge.”
Having one of her three children living in Los Angeles – Gabrielle, 30, a space industry executive who is getting married in October – also was a pull. Fergus lives in New Zealand but is pondering a move to the U.S. Her youngest child, Eliza, 22, graduated this Spring from Georgetown University with a degree in government and will remain in D.C. over the coming year.
When asked about what drives her career decisions, Dr. Inder says it boils down to three buckets.
“The first bucket is, What’s my purpose in life? And my purpose is to be of service. And how can I be most of service? By using the skills I have. I think I have skills in terms of helping to develop programs, training young people to be successful, and infusing innovation and alongside a curiosity and enthusiasm that can inspire the environments where I practice.”
“The second bucket is knowing I will be mastering new skills. CHOC is a large children’s hospital with a growing relationship with the University of California, Irvine, and I’ll be leveraging the skills I already have while mastering new skills to be of service to CHOC.
“Finally, the third bucket is people. I think when you’re surrounded by people who continue to inspire you and support you even when the going gets tough, and it does sometimes get tough, you can remain focused on your North Star.”
Dr. Inder says she also was attracted to CHOC because it’s poised for significant growth in its clinical, research and educational missions.
“I think with the investments being made now, CHOC is on a steady upward trajectory,” Dr. Inder said.
With more than 300 peer-reviewed articles published, Dr. Inder’s primary research is targeted at understanding the timing, mechanisms and impact of cerebral injury and altered cerebral development in infants at high risk for adverse neurodevelopmental outcome, including the prematurely-born infant, the sick term-born infant, and the infant with congenital heart disease.
“All of my research efforts are designed to be immediately translatable to impact care,” Dr. Inder said. “For instance, I’ve been studying the impact of music therapy on brain development and have been working with Bose, the audio equipment company, on research projects. From that we’ve been able to show evidence that music makes a difference. Through a gift I was able to hire a music therapist who works with babies on the unit.”
As she awaits her road trip to California on Route 66, Dr. Inder looks forward to digging into one of her favorite hobbies – gardening – once she arrives in the Golden State.
“California has a Pacific feel for me — it feels like home,” she says. “I’m a gardener. And to me, good gardening is all about good soil and good seeds and good care, and I think CHOC has all those facets.
“So my job, really, will be to sit in the background and help plant some different flowers and vegetables and help others celebrate the growth over the years by just giving a little but more flavor to your already phenomenal enterprise. It’s something to be tremendously proud of.”
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals for neonatology by U.S. News & World Report in its 2022-23 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.