Last Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Karen Wang, MD is a pediatrician based in Reading, Pa. For more than 12 years, she cared for patients at Reading Hospital’s Children’s Health Center, which is a part of Tower Health. In May 2019, she will begin a new position leading the pediatrics program at Berks Community Health Center. She is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s (PAMED) Everyday Hero award for April 2019.
Dr. Karen Wang has made an indelible mark on her community during her 12 plus years as a pediatrician at the Children’s Health Center in Reading – providing free books to patients in need, offering programs to help new moms and dads learn parenting skills, and working to ensure the children in her community get a healthy start in life.
“I really love what I do,” she says. “I get to make a difference for kids and families.”
A native of York, Pa, Dr. Wang knew even as a child that she wanted to be a doctor and she leaned toward a career in pediatrics from the start. “I always enjoyed working with children,” she says.
She received her medical school education at Boston University. “Training in Boston was an amazing experience,” she says. “It has a vibrant educational environment, especially in medicine.”
It was in Boston, where she stayed to complete a pediatric residency at the New England Medical Center, that Dr. Wang first encountered many of the programs that she would later implement in her practice. She had the chance to work in several community health centers, meeting mentors who taught her about working with and advocating for children who live in poverty.
When she was a first-year medical student, Dr. Wang served as a volunteer reader for Reach Out and Read, a program that promotes early literacy. The experience resonated with her. A few years into her tenure at the Children’s Health Center, she brought the Reach and Out Read model to her practice and began giving out books as part of the well child visit.
The success of Dr. Wang’s literacy efforts in her medical practice led the United Way of Berks County to seek her expertise in the creation of the United Way’s Ready.Set.READ! initiative. Ready.Set.READ! mobilizes community members to improve early grade reading skills, with a goal to have 90 percent of third graders in the county reading on grade level by 2023. Dr. Wang now serves on the Board of the United Way of Berks County.
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As dedicated as Dr. Wang is to caring for her young patients, she’s equally devoted to providing support and education to parents. For the past three years, she has been involved with Reading Hospital’s CenteringParenting program.
CenteringParenting offers group well child visits to six to eight families with newborns, and it continues through the first one to two years of a child’s life. The visits typically last two hours and allow time for parenting classes and social support. Dr. Wang says that many of the parents she has worked with through CenteringParenting were socially isolated and that they found great comfort in being able to ask the “Is this normal?” questions new parents often have.
Mentors were the inspiration for many of the accomplishments in Dr. Wang’s professional life. And, she believes in making sure that her younger female physician colleagues have access to mentors as well.
Dr. Wang played a major part in creating a mentorship program for women in medicine at Tower Health. It started with an informal network of physicians that had developed organically. “We had a lot of unique challenges as female physicians in the workplace,” she says.
Dr. Wang and her group decided to create a pilot program that matched young and mid-career physicians with mentors. A dozen doctors were paired with a mentor, and the pairs met monthly, either in person or by phone. They also held quarterly social gatherings.
“I learned a lot in my role as a mentor,” Dr. Wang says. She believes that her program’s success could be replicated by other female physicians looking to create mentorship opportunities.
Dr. Wang would recommend that medical students and young physicians seek out mentors, more than one if possible. “You can learn different things from different people,” she says.
She encourages early career doctors to make time for the people and things that are most important to them. “Life does not get less busy as you get older,” she says with a laugh. “Life gets more complicated for most of us.”
Dr. Wang finds opportunities to enjoy her favorite activities, including reading, yoga, and crafting. She also loves spending time with her family. She credits her husband, Bryan, a college professor, for providing the support that was crucial for her development as a physician. When their teenagers – Simon, 17, and Elise, 14 – were younger, her husband worked as a fiction writer, which allowed him to stay at home and care for the children.
This May, Dr. Wang is set to begin the next chapter in her career. She will be leading the pediatrics program at Berks Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center whose mission is to provide high-quality health care to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.
With all that she has learned as a pediatrician during her time at the Children’s Health Center, Dr. Wang is poised for success in her new role. And, the programs she helped to create will continue to make a difference in her community for many years to come.