September 27, 2023

Member Spotlight: Liset Olarte

Dr. Liset Olarte

Liset Olarte, MD, MSC, is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. She earned her medical degree from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in her native Peru. She completed pediatric residency at the University of Utah and infectious diseases fellowship training at Baylor College of Medicine, where she also obtained a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation.

Dr. Olarte has focused her research work on studying the impact of pneumococcal vaccines and evaluating pneumococcal colonization in children. She is also passionate about advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare. She is a current member of the Inclusion, Diversity, Access and Equity Task Force and the International Affairs Committee.

Why pediatric ID? I have been fascinated by the impact of infectious diseases since a young age. Growing up in Peru, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world and therefore home for many vectors, intermediate hosts, and definitive hosts, I would hear in the news about outbreaks of yellow fever in the Amazon rainforest, dengue in the northern coast, or Chagas disease in the southern Andes. Without even knowing, I had become familiar with the concepts of vector surveillance and control during my childhood. Medical school just reinforced my fascination for infectious diseases. I loved learning about the life cycles of pathogens, and the activity that I enjoyed the most was identifying the eggs of different parasites under the microscope (a skill that I have lost).

However, it was during my clinical rotation in the inpatient unit of the Alexander von Humboldt Tropical Medicine Institute in Lima that I experienced first-hand how infectious diseases physicians integrated their microbiology and epidemiology knowledge, their great clinical skills, and their attention to detail to make a diagnosis in the most complex cases. This “detective” work had a significant impact on me, making me realize I wanted to become an infectious diseases physician. Subsequently, I got involved in two ocular brucellosis studies under the mentorship of Dr. Eduardo Gotuzzo, who was the medical director of the institute at that time. One of those studies became my medical school thesis and was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

I have to admit that I considered becoming an adult infectious diseases physician because most of my exposure to infectious diseases and tropical medicine had been in that population, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to take care of adult patients. When I recognized that pediatric infectious diseases was the perfect career path for me, I made the decision to pursue further training in the United States as pediatric infectious diseases fellowships were not well-established in Peru at that time.

Where have you taken your ID focus? My research interest has focused on studying the impact of Streptococcus pneumoniae infections in children. Drs. Carrie Byington and Krow Ampofo introduced me to the world of pneumococcal surveillance studies during my pediatric residency. As a resident, I used to think that we knew everything that we needed to know about S. pneumoniae, but I was clearly mistaken. Later, I worked with Drs. Sheldon Kaplan, Kristina Hulten, and Edward Mason on several clinical and molecular epidemiology studies as part of the U.S. Pediatric Multicenter Pneumococcal Surveillance Group.

Since then, I have been intrigued by the emergence of vaccine escape recombinant strains after the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and by the constantly changing pneumococcal epidemiology. Most of these changes are first recognized in nasopharyngeal colonization, thus I have focused my recent studies on understanding pneumococcal colonization in different pediatric populations and how pneumococcal colonization has been impacted by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.  

What is a recent development in peds ID you are working on? My interest in pneumococcal infections has allowed me to participate in different pneumococcal conjugate vaccine clinical trials in infants. This is a very exciting time for pneumococcal vaccines as two new higher-valency vaccines (PCV15 and PCV20) have been recently approved to be used in children and there are several more in the pipeline.

Another important aspect of my work is contributing to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in healthcare. I have been actively involved in several DEI efforts and initiatives at my current institution. Some of these initiatives include creating a mentoring program for Latino medical students and founding a Latino Employee Resource Group through which we have established a Latino Advancement Scholarship for employees interested in pursuing further education, advocated for high-quality care for families with limited-English proficiency and provided educational sessions in Spanish to community centers and local associations.

My efforts within our society have focused on finding ways to better support our international medical graduate (IMG) fellows and junior faculty as they represent an important proportion of our fellowship applicants and current workforce. Our PIDS leadership has been very supportive of these initiatives as have been other PIDS committees. For instance, the PIDS Training Programs committee has identified “IMG champions” within their committee and we are collaboratively working on updating the PIDS Fellows Survival Guide to include guidance for IMG fellows. We are also trying to create a database of all peds ID divisions that are eligible for a J-1 waiver faculty position to facilitate the job searching process for fellows on J-1 visas. Those results will be available to our fellows on the PIDS website in the future.

What do you enjoy most about being a PIDS member? What keeps you renewing your membership? I definitely enjoy getting to know other PIDS members and learning about their work. Since joining the PIDS Inclusion, Diversity, Access, and Equity Task Force and the PIDS International Affairs Committee, I have not only gotten to know many other members (including members that practice outside the U.S.), but I have also had the unique opportunity to work with them on projects and initiatives to advance the mission and vision of our society. Many of them have become good friends which I cherish. Finding the PIDS International Affairs Committee has been a wonderful discovery within our society as it is such a diverse group of people with a strong interest in fostering the connections with other pediatric infectious diseases societies around the world and advocating to improve the health of children worldwide.

Improving the health of children worldwide through philanthropic support of scientific and educational programs.

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