Sarah Viall, PPCNP, MSN, is a pediatric nurse practitioner in our Rare Disease Institute. Sarah grew up in Cincinnati, OH, and always knew that she wanted to work with children. “Both of my parents worked in public schools, so I always assumed that I would work with children,” she says. When Sarah was 18 years old, her sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “It was a terrible time. We went to Cincinnati Children’s and there was a pediatric nurse practitioner that my family loved. She was my first introduction to the role.” After having this interaction with her sister’s nurse practitioner, pursuing a career in medicine came naturally to Sarah.
Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University, followed by her master’s degree in nursing from Yale University. Upon graduating from Yale, Sarah began applying for nursing jobs in Washington, D.C. with her sister, who had also recently finished nursing school. “I had actually never been to D.C. as an adult,” Sarah says, “but we were looking to go someplace new, so we decided on D.C.” In applying for jobs, Sarah came across an open position for a nurse practitioner in the division of genetics at Children’s. Despite having a background in primary care, Sarah was intrigued by the position and decided to apply. “I was so impressed by the team I interviewed with, and fell in love with Children’s. When I was offered the job, I said yes immediately.”
“I was trained for this position over about two and a half years, since my background was in primary care,” explains Sarah. “After that, I felt comfortable enough transitioning to see patients by myself.” In her current role, Sarah serves as the point of contact for patients and families who have received an abnormal result on their newborn genetic screenings.
“Every baby born in the United States gets a blood test at birth which gets sent to a public health lab. At the lab, they run that test for about 50 rare genetic diseases that are considered serious, but treatable, with early intervention,” Sarah explains. “Once a state does the testing, they give the results to someone who can handle them. Because these tests deal with rare diseases, pediatricians aren’t always comfortable providing care.”
The Rare Disease Institute serves as a formal consult center for abnormal genetic screenings in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. When states need a follow-up for abnormal screenings, they reach out to Sarah directly. “I see patients' in-clinic about a day after receiving their screening results,” says Sarah. “First, we make sure that they’re stable, and then we work them up to diagnosis.”
The newborn genetic screening program at Children’s has grown significantly since Sarah joined the team. “When I started, Children’s was not a formal consult center for Virginia or Delaware. Over time, we have built a good relationship with these states, and in 2016, we got a formal contract with them,” she says. “That was a really nice recognition of the work that we have done to be a part of those communities.” Sarah sits on newborn genetic screening advisory committees in both Maryland and Virginia, where she is able to provide expertise on the field of genetic screening as it evolves. “Most people don’t even know about newborn genetic screening, but almost everyone has had it,” says Sarah. “Some diseases are much more dangerous than others and they can be very hard to distinguish. MCAD was added to the screening a few years ago, and since then, we have seen the number of SIDS incidents decrease. It’s really an incredible program.”
She is passionate not only about genetic screenings, but about public health in general. “It’s something that I didn’t used to appreciate, but now I do,” says Sarah. “Upstream public health measures can make such a difference in reducing harm to children.” In her role, Sarah gets to see firsthand the difference that public health measures can make. “Working with patients, getting to know them and seeing how well they do thanks to newborn screening is pretty awesome.”
Above all, Sarah is incredibly proud of the work that she does. “The community at large is a wonderful group of dedicated people that I have enjoyed getting to know and becoming a part of,” she says. “I am proud to be a nurse practitioner. I am proud of the nurse practitioners here at Children’s, they are a really important part of our Children’s community.”
Thank you, Sarah, for the amazing work that you do for our patients, families and community!