Member Spotlight: Ashley Bjorklund, MD, FAAP

Ashley Bjorklund, MD, FAAP

What led you to choose pediatrics?

Who wouldn’t choose pediatrics?? Just kidding. My short answer is kids are just the best. Who wouldn’t want to care for them? I am actually med-peds trained though, and so I do love the full spectrum of ages and patient care, but I think people would say I have always been kind of a med-PEDS type.

When I decided to do critical care, I was drawn more to pediatric critical care. I have always enjoyed working with kids (as a coach, counselor, etc.) and I am drawn to advocating for those whose voice is less heard. I also find joy in working with families in times of critical need and enjoy the responsibility of partnering with these families and supporting them in decisions and understanding about their child’s illness. This all combined to make pediatric critical care a good fit for me.

You’ve been published with several articles about medical device innovation for low-resource settings. What initially got you interested in this topic?

I have had a passion for working in resource-limited settings and trying to lessen gaps and disparities in care since a young age. While in residency, I had the opportunity to do some training in Nicaragua and Kenya as part of the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics “Global Health Tracks.” I knew by the time that I was headed for this training that I was interested in pursuing a career in critical care and had sought out mentorship from Dr. Tina Slusher, a global pediatric intensive care physician. She introduced me to the idea of low-cost devices and had me do a needs assessment for pediatric respiratory support while I was in Kenya. 

My passion for device work grew from seeing the disparities in what was offered in a high-resource U.S. hospital, compared to what was available in different hospitals globally. In the ICU, a lot of the care we provide is now technology and device dependent. Whether it be monitoring devices or respiratory support devices, there have been huge advances in what we have available to care for patients. Some of the biggest differences in ICU care in a high-resource setting, versus that available in a low resource setting are the technology and devices that are available. 

Most of these devices had a blueprint, a simple way of making them prior to commercialization. I love going back to that blueprint and thinking about how we can safely, and more cost effectively, make the technology. I don’t have a biomedical engineering background, so we have to partner with those experts. Low-cost device innovation seems to be a simple way to lessen gaps in what is available in high- and low-resource settings.

You are a veteran, having served in the Navy at both Camp Lejeune and Walter Reed. What lessons or experiences from this time do you carry with you in your current role at Hennepin Healthcare?

I learned a lot of life lessons as a medical officer in the Navy. The greatest lesson was the value and strength of mission driven teamwork (an all hands-on deck, in this together attitude). The Navy also taught me about leadership, attention to detail, and how to be resilient. Logistically, I learned about contingency planning and disaster management.

At Hennepin Healthcare, I am the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit. I find that my goal is always to foster that same sense of mission driven teamwork and “in this together” attitude as I experienced in the Navy. The COVID pandemic has placed a great deal of strain on the medical system, but my training prepared me to think through contingency plans and to be flexible with resources.

What is one advocacy issue that you feel drawn to? 

Right now, the issue that is highest on my list is gun safety. We need to find better ways to protect our children from gun violence and to support those who are survivors of gun violence. Gun violence has become the number one cause of death in children. It is a health equity issue when you look at the groups that are impacted the most. There are simple measures we can take as pediatricians to make sure our families know how to safety store firearms. However, advocacy efforts that work to stop the violence is a much greater issue that needs higher level support.

How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I enjoy being active and doing outdoor activities with my husband (Seth) and two children (Otto, age 10, and Camille, age 8). We enjoy running, often with the kids biking alongside. We have two big dogs, Chopper (American Bulldog) and Shady (Basset Hound) who bring us much joy, and two guinea pigs, Cinnamon and Milky Way, that bring us many laughs.

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