In Conversation: Tina Dominguez
One of the closest relationships patients develop when they participate in a clinical trial at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University is with Physician Assistant Tina Dominguez.
Tina’s warmth and effervescence puts even her youngest patients immediately at ease. From middle-of-the-night calls, to valuable tips on managing food allergen doses, she is with her patients and their families every step of the way as they participate in Stanford's clinical trials.
In this interview, Tina opens up about her background, experience at the Center, and most rewarding moments with the allergy clinical trial program at Stanford.
What compelled you to work at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University?
Tina: I liked the fact that something was being done for children with food allergies other than just telling them to avoid the food. I could see that the Center was giving children a “normal” life and it was a different alternative for kids rather than saying, “just don’t eat this.” It was a way for me to help not only those children in the studies, but eventually change the way we treat food allergies as a whole. Stanford was opening up a new door for kids. After looking at Dr. Kari Nadeau’s research, how could I not want to be part of the amazing work being done by her team? As soon as I talked to Dr. Nadeau and shadowed in the clinic for a day, I knew at that moment that this was what I wanted to do.
In your opinion, what is one of the Center's most interesting research findings in food allergies?
Tina: I would have to say the bystander effect between food allergies is very interesting to me. The bystander effect occurs when desensitizing for one food has a potential cross-desensitization benefit on a different food. For example, when someone is desensitized to cashew, they may benefit from some desensitization to pistachio at the same time. Finding the relationship between things like this is so interesting. If you can knock one or two allergens off by desensitizing to another food that is big.
Can you describe your favorite moment since working at the Center?
Tina: My favorite moment in the trials is when a patient reaches the 4000mg dose of their food allergen. To see a patient realize that they can enjoy life and go on a play date and travel now since they are not afraid of what’s around them is a special part of my job. I also love hearing all the stories from my patients about what they are able to do now that they can eat the foods they were allergic to.
What do you like about working in a clinical trial program?
Tina: Clinical trial programs ultimately help us get treatments into clinics. It is exciting to be a part of something that is creating hope for the future of food allergies.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Tina: When a child gets to eat a food for the very first time that they wanted to eat or were afraid to eat. To see the look on their face when they get to eat a food that was potentially life-threatening to them before is amazing. I love helping the kids overcome the fear and anxiety surrounding their allergies. And, as they progress in the study you see how their fear and anxiety decreases.
Where did you receive your education?
Tina: I graduated from Stanford School of Medicine Primary Care Associates Program (PCAP) in 2009 with a Physician Assistant Certification. Despite the intensity of the 16-month PCAP program, I wanted to expand my medical education, so I chose to get a Masters in Medical Science from St. Francis University at the same time. My undergraduate degree is a BS from San Francisco State with an emphasis on business administration. During my undergraduate years, I worked as a medical assistant to pay the bills, and that job led me to pursue a career in medicine. I realized that I enjoyed medicine much more than business.
What advice would you offer to someone who is considering participating in a clinical trial at the Center?
Tina: My advice to any family considering joining a clinical trial would be to talk to other families that are in a trial or who have completed a trial. I would also have the prospective family look at our website. This will help them understand the time commitment and dedication that will be required of them. Talking to other families is the biggest thing. It helps to talk to others about their experience. If I had a child who was food allergic I would have my child participate in a trial. A clinical trial can be one of the scariest things you do, but the benefits could possibly be life-changing. But it’s a very personal decision whether to participate.
What do you like most about your work?
I love the connections I have with the staff and the patients. I love that I have an ongoing relationship with the patients and their families. And that I am a part of their lives and they are a part of mine. I feel like I am making a difference in the lives of my patients, as well as opening the door and giving so many people hope that there are things they can do about their food allergies.
What are four things people don’t know about you?
Tina: I am the first one in my family to ever graduate from college or even have any higher education after college. My family roots are Mexican, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am one of four girls in my family.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Tina: I love camping and outdoor activities. I like trying new things and going to new places. I enjoy day or weekend trips to explore new places. I love traveling, snow boarding, and all outdoor activities. I try to make time to do the things I enjoy. I am lucky to have a husband and friends that support my work so when I am out with them doing personal activities and a patient calls my cell phone with a problem, they understand that being on-call is a part of my job and don’t mind me taking the phone call.
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
What makes you laugh?
Tina: Being around friends and family, good times, and stories I hear from my patients. I am a people person, a true Gemini. I am fine being alone but I enjoy the company of others and enjoy laughing with them.
Interview by Julie Bitler
Julie spearheads community outreach and education events for the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University. She also works closely with new patients and graduate patients heading up the patient and alumni support teams for the Center. As the mother of a trial graduate, she offers a unique perspective to new trial families.