Member of the Month: Christine Criscuolo Higgins, M.D.

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Member of the Month:
Christine Criscuolo Higgins, M.D.

Academic physician’s love of fitness inspires community involvement

posted 06.22.11

Christine Criscuolo Higgins, M.D., is a clinical faculty member and the curriculum director for the Christus Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency Program in San Antonio. In addition to teaching residents, she combines her family medicine background, love of fitness, and compassion for the indigent in her service as a member of the San Antonio Active Living Council, a coalition group led by the mayor that aims to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity in the city.

Higgins received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Theater from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.; she was awarded her medical degree by the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, N.M.; and she completed her family medicine residency at Christus Santa Rosa where she was chief resident. She completed an Academic Medicine Fellowship at the Faculty Development Center in Waco, Texas, before joining the faculty at Christus.

Between her undergraduate and medical education, she spent a year volunteering with AmeriCorps VISTA—a national service program—providing community services, emotional support, and various resources to the indigent population of Delaware County. She is a member of AAFP, TAFP, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, and Bexar County Medical Society.

In her spare time, Higgins trains for long-distance athletic events and has completed four Ironman triathlons—a three-leg race encompassing a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. She also enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends. She is married to Russell, a hematopathologist.

I chose family medicine because … it never gets boring! I get to do something different every day, ranging from delivering a baby, performing sports physicals for the local high school, providing diabetic education in my clinic, treating a severely ill patient in the ICU, and everything in between. I’m always learning and never stop being amazed by the breadth of family medicine, the intricacies of the human body, and the power of the human spirit.

How does your experience as a family physician benefit your interaction with and contribution to the fitness council? I practice and teach medicine at the only charity-based hospital in San Antonio, Christus Santa Rosa, in an underprivileged part of town. I’m acutely aware of the challenges that face many of San Antonio’s underserved population—lack of health insurance, lack of access to health care, lack of access to safe places to exercise, and limited knowledge about how to make healthier food choices that fit within their cultural traditions and financial constraints. As an athlete, I’m also conscious of what many San Antonio residents crave—more bike routes with bigger bike lanes; more parks with shaded trails and playgrounds; and more community-sponsored races, training groups, and fitness programs, so Bexar county residents can find the support they need to maintain their health gains.

How has your experience been teaching residents? I don’t know who learns more—me, or the residents I teach. They definitely keep me accountable for staying current and evidenced-based. There are many times when a resident asks me a question and we wind up looking up the answers together. And while residents might not always remember all the content of their lectures, they do recollect the tone, body language, and underlying character of their teachers. So I strive to maintain high personal standards worthy of imitation.

What one-sentence advice would you give third-year residents transitioning to become new family physicians? Challenge yourself daily. Just because you’ve graduated from residency doesn’t mean that you won’t still have to work hard, that you won’t sometimes be nervous or scared, and that you’ve learned everything.

How can we attract more medical students to family medicine? Exposure, exposure, exposure! It’s difficult to put into words the relationship a family doctor has with her patients and their families, especially when she treats multiple generations within one family. It’s also hard to describe that being a good family physician is not just a job, but a way of life. But once a student has spent some time with such a physician in her clinic, watches how she interacts with her patients, and sees the satisfaction on both the physician’s and patient’s face at the end of their visit, the student knows he’s witnessed something special and often wants to be a part of it.

How do you spend your free time? I find exercise to be extremely therapeutic. It clears my head and helps me to feel strong and confident, both physically and mentally. It makes me a more effective person in all the activities of my day. Subsequently, I spend a lot of time outdoors running, biking, hiking, swimming, and practicing yoga. I’ve completed four Ironman triathlons and even a 100-mile ultramarathon. I love spending time with my husband and our two big dogs. Oh, and I really love eating at new restaurants or experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you want your job to be? That’s easy. I’d be a film editor. My college degree is in film and video production. I’d love to edit movies and documentaries. I find it fascinating how the same footage can tell so many different stories just by the way the frames are cut and pasted together. Music and images have an amazing power to motivate and film editing is just one way to harness that power. Or a wedding planner—everybody loves weddings!

TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights outstanding Texas family physicians in QuickInfo and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month who is doing great work to advance family medicine in his or her community. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month, nominate the physician by sending his or her name, phone number, and e-mail address to View past Members of the Month here.