“I never had the perception that I was kept from doing anything because of my gender.”
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Karen Wasilewski-Masker has four dads. Not biologically, of course. But four mentors and father figures whom she credits with helping to shape the trajectory of her life and the person she’s become. The first was her flesh and blood dad. Growing up on the East Coast, other fathers in the neighborhood played sports with their sons. Young Karen’s father played with her instead, sparking a lifelong love of athletics and an awareness that being a girl was not a limitation.
“I never had the perception that I was kept from doing anything because of my gender,” she recalls.
Wasilewski-Masker played volleyball, basketball, and softball in high school. In college at Penn State, it was rugby. She played for the university’s newly-rebooted women’s team led by coach Charlie Smith, her next mentor. The team made it all the way to the national championship; Wasilewski-Masker credits Smith’s tireless work ethic for inspiring her and the rest of the team. “He was born in the poorest area of South Africa and worked up to be the head of the accounting department at Penn State, and now [he’s] nationally and internationally known.”
Initially a sociology and political science major, Wasilewski-Masker decided during her sophomore year that she wanted to study medicine and become a physician. After graduating from Penn, she moved to Nashville for medical school and a residency in pediatrics, and then to New Jersey where she joined a practice owned by David Rosenberg. “He was just so incredibly passionate about what he was doing in general pediatrics, and I did not feel that at all.”
Rosenberg encouraged her to do what she loved, which was caring for kids with blood diseases and cancer. After a year with the practice, she received a pediatric hematology and oncology fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine. Wasilewski-Masker has now been in Georgia for almost 15 years, working at both Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
She married a childhood friend—a fellow sports fan—nearly 20 years after they first met. “For our first date, I went over [to] his house and watched the NBA All-Star game.” The couple has passed on their love of sports and the outdoors to their 10 and seven-year-old daughters, who play softball and basketball.
At work, Wasilewski-Masker met another “work dad” and mentor—Bill Woods, professor emeritus of Emory’s pediatrics department. His life’s philosophy: Treat everyone fairly. “Doing the right thing has been my main influence from a career perspective,” she says.
This philosophy encompasses improving the quality of care for her patients. She’s working with Georgia Tech researchers and patients to examine inefficiencies in patient care for kids with cancer, a complex process involving multiple steps, providers, and rooms.
“The awesome thing about Georgia Tech is that there are all these really smart people that want to help people, but don’t have patients,” she explained. “And then we have patients and things that we want to do for them, but not necessarily the time or the skillset.”
Working together, Wasilewski-Masker and Georgia Tech researchers are developing a “passport” app. It collects time motion data about patients’ visits and provides qualitative information expressing how they felt in each location. “It’s an opportunity to look at problem-solving in a different way.”
Georgia Tech Connection