It felt good, she decided. After graduating from medical school and completing a residency in pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center – Creighton University, she returned to her hometown of Pierre, South Dakota, and for 10 years served that community as a general pediatrician. “I was one of two full-time pediatricians there, and I served patients in a large area around Pierre, too,” she explained. “I had a very busy clinical practice.”

But she had longed to focus on newborns and babies, and she accepted a fellowship in neonatal and perinatal medicine at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. Over the course of three years in Iowa, Baack learned that she loved research.

Since returning to South Dakota in 2011, Baack has served as a neonatologist at Sanford Children’s Specialty Clinic and as a physician scientist at Sanford Research, both in Sioux Falls. She also taught at the school of medicine as an associate professor of pediatrics in the neonatology division. “About half my time was spent working in the neonatal intensive care unit,” she explained, “and the other half was
spent performing perinatal research.”

“My research,” Baack described, “relates to mothers and newborns. My goal has been to intervene and benefit a child’s health before it is born. The research my lab and I do involves developmental programming. In other words, we examine the impact of environmental factors during critical windows of early development on the lifelong health of a person.” Baack also helps lead National Institutes of Health (NIH) Neonatal Research Network clinical trials for Sanford Health. “We’re one of 15 centers in the network’s consortium enrolling babies into 13 active studies that aim to improve outcomes of high-risk neonates,” she said.

“I’m excited to chair the pediatrics department,” Baack declared. “I’m also thrilled that the medical school decided to select someone for the chair position who has a strong research focus. This means a lot to our faculty who are working to improve health care through science. The hardest aspect of accepting the chair’s position is that I will have to reduce my time with babies in the NICU.”

Baack, one of only four physician-scientists at Sanford Research, intends to promote research among the medical students she teaches and mentors. “We can train our students to become excellent clinicians, and we can also influence them to develop a broader perspective that can include research,” she said.

Medical school dean Dr. Tim Ridgway appreciates the broad skillset Baack brings to the medical school. “Dr. Baack’s experience and expertise in pediatrics as a physician, a researcher and as an educator, make her the ideal appointment for this important leadership position,” said Ridgway. “Her loyalty and skilled service to our institution has been demonstrated in many ways, and she is a strong advocate for children’s health care throughout South Dakota. We welcome her to our leadership team.”
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