Connie Uy & Natalie Uy: The only mother-daughter pediatric nephrologists in the U.S.

At Connie and Nestor Uy’s golden wedding anniversary on October 23.  

By Cristina DC Pastor

In New Jersey, there are only 11 doctors who specialize in the rare medical practice of Pediatric Nephrology, or the care of children with kidney disease.

Mother-and-daughter doctors Connie Uy, MD, 78, and Natalie Uy, MD, 44, belong to this near-exalted circle. As Connie was preparing for her  retirement as a pediatric nephrologist of 50 years in 2018, Natalie had stepped into the field, as a pediatric nephrologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).  How is it possible that out of a dozen practitioners in the state, two would come from one Filipino American family?

It wasn’t a case of mother coercing – or cajoling – her daughter into following her footsteps. The decision was all Natalie’s.

“I did not coach her, I allowed her to decide for herself,” said Connie, amused to hear remarks that she had a hand in shaping Natalie to be the kind of specialist that she was.  Connie is the first Filipina to receive the New Jersey Woman of Achievement Award.

For so long, Natalie resisted the idea of following in her mother’s footsteps. But being  the youngest of three children, she said, “There was an unspoken assumption that I would be the doctor in the family since my brothers did not have any interest in medicine.”

Natalie is the only daughter of Connie and Nestor Uy, a retired corporate accountant. Brothers Lawrence is Associate Director in the Digital and Technology Partners at Mount Sinai Medical Center; and Darryl is Director of Admissions at Bates College in Maine.

After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Neuroscience, Natalie remained ambivalent on what to pursue after graduation. To find her compass, she immersed herself in interests that are non-medical in nature, such as teaching in Hong Kong and working in a New York law firm.

‘I trust her with my feelings on controversial issues,’ says Connie of only daughter Natalie. Photo by Reza Parungao, MD

“I wanted to explore other careers before committing to medicine because I knew, through my mom, that it would be a long road,” she said.

In 2003, Natalie decided to apply to medical school, and was initially interested in adult medicine, but “fell in love” with pediatrics. She was still fighting the idea of specializing in kidney disease because “I knew my mom was an exceptional pediatric nephrologist – and I didn’t think I would be able to do what she does.”

When Natalie finally chose to be a pediatric nephrologist, Connie was elated. “Knowing Natalie and her quest for logical thinking and a problem solver, I knew that she would choose nephrology,” she said.

Close bond despite distance

Mother and daughter are close. Even when Natalie moved to Manhattan, the two would not let a day pass without calling or texting each other.

“I am comfortable sharing with her my feelings on controversial issues,” said Connie, speaking to The FilAm.

Connie,  a medicine graduate from the University of the Philippines, came to the U.S. in 1967, and moved to Wisconsin for her internship at the Evan Deaconess Hospital. The following year, she moved to New Jersey, where she practiced medicine, first at the Martland Hospital in Newark. She and Nestor got married after two years and bought their first home  in Pine Brook in the 1970s. The chalet-type house  with a sprawling garden has been the family’s first and only home.

Natalie graduated medical school from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and did her residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. She spent her fellowship at Montefiore in the Bronx.

Her admiration for her mother goes beyond what Connie had accomplished as a doctor in America.

“She moved to the U.S. in the late 60s, and joined the workforce as a female, immigrant physician, when medicine at that time was really an all-boys club. Based on hard work and perseverance, she rose to the top. She was way ahead of her time,” said Natalie.

The Uys of Pine Brook. From left: Darryl and husband Bob; Jasmin and husband Lawrence and their son Lincoln;  Nestor, Connie and Natalie

As a mother, “My mom always separated work from family, so when she is home, she is a wife and mother. She doesn’t discuss work at the house. And so it was nice to see the other side, and watch her in her role as a physician.”

As a pediatric nephrologist  — Natalie is the director of the Pediatric Nephrology Fellowship Program at CUIMC / New York Presbyterian Hospital —  she takes cares of children who have kidney disease,  as young as newborns through adolescence. 

“I enjoy the ongoing relationships with my patients. Though kidney disease in children is rare, some are born with underdeveloped kidneys, and some develop kidney disease later,” she said. “Kidney disease affects overall health, and my goal is to restore their health, and help children manage these conditions so they can lead fulfilling lives.”

Connie, citing data from the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties, said that “As of 2012 there were 843 pediatric nephrologists in the US with average age 56.8 years, with 27.5% older than 65 and an additional 21.4% will reach that age within the next decade. It is estimated that the U.S. will require at least 30 new pediatric nephrologists per year over the next decade to simply maintain the pediatric nephrology workforce.” It is therefore important to continue to train and inspire the next generation.

Asking for help

Connie serves as Natalie’s inspirational mentor. Said Natalie, “It was so easy to discuss cases with her. She makes complex problems seem logical. There is a reason she has won so many teaching awards.”

Natalie has met many of her mom’s colleagues, students, and patients. She has been described by others as brilliant, scary and intimidating, which gives Natalie a good chuckle:  “I wondered how someone so petite could be so scary.”

Connie reminds her daughter not to hesitate to ask for help. A pediatric nephrologist’s hours can be long and burnout happens even to the best doctors. Having a strong support system is important. And Natalie does, recalling a time she came home exhausted from a long week. How does mom do it?

“She said she doesn’t do it all on her own, she has learned to delegate. And she was lucky to have my grandparents help raise us while she balanced her career with family,” said Natalie.

Has it been a tough act to follow? Absolutely! But with Connie’s guidance, Natalie has continued her mother’s legacy in becoming an accomplished physician with a passion for her students and patients. They hope to inspire not just students, but other mother-daughter doctors to share in this unique relationship in caring for children with chronic disease.

A Palawan vacation.

(C) The FilAm 2022

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