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Q + A: Ritu Banerjee, MD, PhD

Posted by on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 in Fall 2022, Q+A .

Photo by Susan Urmy

Ritu Banerjee, MD, PhD, is professor of Pediatrics, director of Clinical Services for the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and medical director of the Pediatric Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

What do you like about being an infectious disease specialist?

It’s never boring. It’s always interesting. There’s so much breadth to it: there are so many different pathogens, including newly emerging ones, so many different kinds of patients that get infections, organ systems that can be involved, and types of providers that I interact with as an infectious disease consultant — we get to talk to everybody, which is really fun.

What is the antimicrobial stewardship program?

Antibiotic overuse and misuse have led to a lot of problems, especially the emergence and spread of drug-resistant pathogens. Antimicrobial stewardship programs encourage health care providers to use antibiotics judiciously — when you need them, but not use them when you don’t need them, for treatment of viruses, for example. Antibiotic stewardship programs aim to reduce the collateral damage of antibiotic overuse and misuse and improve the quality of care.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center was recently designated an Antimicrobial Stewardship Center of Excellence by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Why?

We have great support from hospital leadership, on the adult and pediatric sides. At Monroe Carell, I am the medical director; Sophie Katz, MD, is associate medical director leading the outpatient stewardship program; and Jessica Gillon, PharmD, is the infectious disease pharmacist. We are accountable for performance measures. We have institutional pillar goals around antibiotic stewardship; we have tools to track antibiotic use and resistance rates among our pathogens; and we’ve implemented educational efforts for providers and patients.

What are the goals of the antimicrobial stewardship program?

I hope that we can use some lessons learned from COVID-19 to help our stewardship program, because I think most people now understand that diseases like COVID-19 that are caused by viruses are not treated by antibiotics, and I hope we can expand that appreciation to other viruses. Tennessee is one of the highest antibiotic-prescribing states in the U.S. We need to think about how to offer antibiotic stewardship to underserved and rural areas in our state.

You’re also leading a program to combat antimicrobial resistance through the CDC’s Global Action in Healthcare Network. Why were you interested in this effort?

Pathogens don’t respect borders, and antimicrobial resistance anywhere is resistance everywhere. There are highly drug-resistant bacterial pathogens that are almost untreatable with our current antibiotics and are endemic in some areas of the world — we need to try to prevent these bacteria from spreading in hospitals. We’re working with hospitals in Greece to enhance both their rapid detection of these strains in the laboratory and their infection control activities.