Specialist feels at home in Conway
Maternal-fetal medicine specialists care for women who have complicated or high-risk pregnancies as well as their babies. “We have the unique privilege of taking care of two patients at the same time,” said Dawn Hughes, MD. “I love that aspect of my practice.”
Dawn Hughes, a UCA graduate, has returned to Conway and brought her medical practice with her. This is great news for women with high-risk pregnancies and their babies.
Before Hughes helped establish the Conway Regional Maternal-Fetal Medicine Center of Arkansas in 2021, those mothers and babies had to turn to out-of-town specialists for the specialized care sought by those types of patients.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialists care for women who have complicated or high-risk pregnancies as well as their babies. “We have the unique privilege of taking care of two patients at the same time,” said Hughes. “I love that aspect of my practice.”
Women who benefit from maternal-fetal medicine include:
- Women who are over the age of 35 who are pregnant or want to become pregnant
- Pregnant women who have medical conditions such as autoimmune disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
- Women who have had premature babies or babies with structural and genetic conditions.
Perinatal and post-natal babies who benefit include:
- Babies who have been diagnosed as high risk (not growing as well as expected).
- Babies that have had an ultrasound that revealed a structural or genetic condition.
Preconceptual consults are also a big part of Hughes’ practice.
“One of the things that we love to do is sit down with high-risk patients prior to them getting pregnant and talk them through what their risks are if they get pregnant and so they can make an educated decision and optimize having a good outcome,” said Hughes. “This way they will know what the plan will be as their pregnancy moves forward.”
She uses the word “we” often when describing the maternal-fetal medicine services at Conway Regional.
Supported by multidisciplinary teamwork and careful planning, the maternal-fetal medicine team collaborates with obstetricians, gynecologists, neonatologists, and pediatricians to care for pregnant women who are experiencing health conditions that could affect the pregnancy or women who have a history of high-risk pregnancies. The clinic also performs testing for birth defects and genetic disorders.
“We work in addition to, not in place of, the patient’s care team,” said Hughes. “We are supporters of the pregnancy. They are still going to deliver at their home hospital with their primary obstetrician (OB). The primary OB is still their point person who still makes medical decisions for their care.”
Hughes’ role is to perform the research, determine the risks, and prepare a delivery plan for the mother and baby.
Hughes explained, “What I love about my job is that in maternal-fetal medicine, every patient is so different, and you have to take into consideration how the mom and baby interact,” Hughes said. “You must have a specific plan of care for that mom and that baby. The plan of care is never going to look the same. It keeps our job interesting because no two patients are remotely the same.”
Some patients visit the center before they get pregnant. Other patients will visit during the first trimester if they have had a history of an early loss or if early genetic screening is needed. Most patients visit mid-way through the pregnancy for a targeted ultrasound.
“On the first visit, we dive into the patient’s medical and genetic history to explore all the things that can change or complicate the pregnancy. From there, we develop a plan of care and make an outline of what the pregnancy should look like,” she said.
For some patients, Hughes added, “it’s coming to see us once and we make our recommendations and send them back to their OB-GYN. Other patients see us every single week. For instance, diabetic patients see us weekly in person or over telemedicine for insulin adjustments.”
Hughes relies on a three-person team that she brought with her to Conway in 2021.
“I’m nothing without my nurse practitioner (Stacey Johnson, APRN (Advanced Practice Nurse) and my two sonographers (Jyl Sullivan and Kristen Thompson),” she said. “They are going to be the first eyes and hands on these babies, and they’ve seen everything before. Stacey is going to do everything to make sure these patients get everything they need and that takes a lot of coordination and communication. We have a team that helps the patients feel comfortable. They get to know the four of us really well and they know what to expect because of the communication.”
Moving Practice to Conway
Moving her practice from Little Rock to Conway shouldn’t surprise anyone, Hughes says.
“We love Conway,” she said. “I went to college at UCA. My husband (Robbie) was born here, and his grandparents live here. Conway is the perfect hybrid of having all the perks of living in the big city, but it still has a very unique small-town feel.”
A major part of the lure for Hughes is the practice environment that she has been able to create.
“I’m able to have more control and give patients the time that they deserve,” she said. “There is nothing more precious than becoming a mom and it is such a privilege to be involved in their care. I don’t want my patients to feel rushed. I want them to know that they have our undivided attention, they have our support, and they are getting the best care from the best team.”
(This article was originally published in the October issue of Faulkner County Lifestyle.)