One of the first patients Dr. Sabah Iqbal treated when she started working at the PM Pediatrics urgent care center in Rockville in June 2017 was a child who’d been burned during a camping trip. After Iqbal cleaned and dressed the wounds, she called a burn surgeon at Children’s National hospital in D.C., where she had worked in the emergency room for 11 years. “He’s like, ‘Well, you just did everything I do, so they don’t need to come here,’ ” Iqbal recalls. She arranged for the surgeon to see the child for a follow-up a few days later. “It’s something I’d seen a million times at Children’s, but I wasn’t quite expecting it here,” she says.
Iqbal says PM Pediatrics is equipped to treat 90 percent of what an emergency room handles, from taking X-rays and stitching wounds to treating asthma with oxygen, oral steroids or through an IV. “Something that requires an ambulance is probably the only thing that shouldn’t come here,” she says. (PM Pediatrics doesn’t handle serious traumas, such as car accidents, or problems that require CT scans or other advanced imaging.)
Iqbal, who says she was 5 or 6 years old when she first knew she wanted to be a pediatrician, attended Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, graduated from Georgetown University and went on to Georgetown’s medical school. She spent a three-year fellowship in the emergency department at Children’s, and then eight more years as an attending physician there before becoming medical director at the Rockville Pike office of PM Pediatrics, part of a national chain.
Patients are seen by a pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner. “I do think it makes such a huge difference to have people who are pediatric trained. …Think of IVs and little tiny dehydrated babies. You need somebody who’s done that 800 times and they’re just 100 percent comfortable doing it,” says Iqbal, who sees newborns through 25-year-olds. One patient was a student at George Washington University who told Iqbal that he sought out a pediatric facility because he wanted to be “treated nicely.”
“He’s far away from his mom and he was sick,” she says.
The 41-year-old doctor sees the pediatric urgent care center as a complement to a patient’s regular pediatrician—a place to go when a pediatrician is booked up, or when the doctor’s office is closed. She says a doctor or other staff member at PM Pediatrics calls each patient within three days to follow up.
Iqbal, who lives in Potomac with her husband, 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, loves working within her own community. “I end up treating a lot of kids I know, a lot of kids from our school and our camp and our soccer team and our friends,” she says. “I did a fracture follow-up in [the] car pool line.”
In Her Own Words…
The Super Sick
“We see a larger proportion of the fevers, the coughs, the colds—and less of the super sick children. However, we have seen kids who are quite sick. We’re seeing kids who are having severe asthma, kids who are having anaphylaxis. I’ve seen some really bad allergic reactions. We have the identical medications they would have in an ER setting. I’ve been able to have some extended observations and send the children home when they do better, as opposed to ever needing to bump them to an ER or to a hospital.”
Treating the Worry
“We’ve seen a ton of babies with their first fevers, which is something I remember as a mom—that first-time fever or the first time with a runny nose or a cough. It feels really good to examine the baby and tell them everything’s OK, and kind of go through some of the baby stuff…how you put your baby to sleep and what is a fever and when you should be worried and how to assess how they’re doing. During those early days, it’s so hard to know what the crying means, what to do.”
“The flu vaccine doesn’t prevent completely getting the flu, but last flu season I saw such a big difference between the kids who were vaccinated but still got the flu and the kids who were not. The kids who were vaccinated were happier; they were playing, they were drinking. The kids who were not vaccinated had significantly higher fevers, were much sicker, were much more likely to need multiple follow-ups. It sounds like this year is going to be pretty bad—it might even be more severe than last year. The best course of action is vaccinating—before Thanksgiving is a good time to get it.”
“One of the reasons we don’t open in the morning on weekdays and Saturday is because we do want the pediatricians to fill their urgent care schedule, fill all their open slots, and noon is the time where I feel like a lot of doctors are saying, ‘We’re full for the day.’ Sometimes we get bump-overs directly, where pediatricians will say, ‘We’re full. Can you head over to PM Pediatrics if you can’t wait till the morning?’ We start getting school nurses calls at that time, too. Kids who’ve fallen or tripped and are getting picked up because they’re vomiting suddenly and they have to be seen.”