Catherine Spong, M.D., has been named Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where she has served as Vice Chair since 2018. Dr. Spong is a tenured Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a renowned expert in maternal-fetal medicine, a field in which she has led research to better understand fetal development, create an evidence base for obstetrical management, and has been an advocate for including pregnant and lactating women in clinical studies.
In announcing the appointment, W. P. Andrew Lee, M.D., Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, noted that Dr. Spong is the author of many landmark clinical trials in obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, and fetal surgery that have defined the standard of care. Under her watch as Vice Chair, Dr. Lee said, William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital and Parkland Memorial Hospital achieved the highest level of maternal care, Level 4, from the state of Texas.
Before joining UTSW, Dr. Spong served as Deputy Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she spent 23 years in numerous capacities, including Acting Director, Director of Extramural Research, and Chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Research Branch.
UT Southwestern drew Dr. Spong’s interest because it has one of the largest obstetrics and gynecology departments in the country and combines excellence in research, education, and clinical care, she said. “My passion has always been obstetrics, and I wanted to find a place that had great clinical volume, great research infrastructure, and a great name for education. Clearly, UT Southwestern fit the bill,” Dr. Spong explained, adding that the department, which includes Clements University Hospital and Parkland Memorial Hospital, together deliver about 14,000 babies annually.
A focus of her research has been to provide evidence for the care of pregnant women and their babies by better understanding the developing fetus and placenta, said Dr. Spong. In order to better understand in real time the role of the placenta in fetal development, she launched the Human Placenta Project to critically study the placenta during pregnancy and how it changes throughout development rather than focusing only on the organ after delivery, which had been the common practice.
Dr. Spong is also a leader in advocating for inclusion of pregnant and lactating women in clinical trials as well as for the inclusion of other underrepresented groups, such as children and older adults. She chaired the Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women established by Congress in 2017, which provided recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Other research she has led includes investigations into the optimal timing to deliver a preterm baby and the benefit of surgery to treat spina bifida, or myelomeningocele, on fetuses in the mother’s womb before birth.
At UT Southwestern, Dr. Spong has continued her research calling for greater inclusion of pregnant and lactating women in studies. An opinion article she co-authored in JAMA earlier this year pointed out that while pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 are at greater risk of delivering their babies early, they were not included in the development and clinical evaluation of vaccines and treatments, leaving them and their doctors with limited information to make decisions.
“Oftentimes, pregnant and lactating women are excluded from research, as well as children and the elderly, and that then limits the ability to determine whether interventions can improve outcomes for them,” she said.
As Chair, Dr. Spong said she plans to expand research, grow the Division of Gynecology, and develop specialty clinics to enhance the institution’s local, national, and international reputation. “We have an excellent foundation and we’re going to build on that foundation – we have the ability to do more,” she said.
Dr. Spong completed a six-year combined B.A./M.D. program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. She then completed her internship and residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at the NIH and Georgetown University.
Among honors in her field, she has received the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Distinguished Service Award.