Dr. Nicolas Cuttriss is a third year resident in the Department of Pediatrics. Last year, Dr. Cuttriss was profiled in Pediatrics in Review for his role in the global health initiative, American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad (AYUDA).
Dr. Cuttriss, a Washington, DC native, co-founded AYUDA at the age of fourteen with friend Jesse Fuchs-Simon during their freshman year at Georgetown Day High School. While still in high school, Dr. Cuttriss and his friend traveled to Ecuador where he met a family that had exhausted all of its funds paying for a child’s insulin. After also discovering that few families in the country had any information about how to manage diabetes, Dr. Cuttriss and his friend started AYUDA. AYUDA empowers youth to serve as agents of change in diabetes communities abroad.
Dr. Cuttriss realized that communities were suffering due to a lack of information about diabetes. By helping young people with diabetes overcome education barriers, he helped empower children to live happier and healthier lives. These observations continue to play into Dr. Cuttriss’ focus within AYUDA and his career in medicine. After receiving a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Cuttriss pursued an M.D./M.P.H. degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Public Health. He is now finishing his pediatric residency training at Harbor-UCLA, after which he will be completing a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at the University of Miami Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Cuttriss has received numerous awards for his role in AYUDA, which has grown into an internationally renowned nonprofit organization. AYUDA is endorsed by the World Health Organization and has been recognized by significant social entrepreneurship agencies, including the World Bank. In 2007 AYUDA was granted Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Dr. Cuttriss has traveled the world with AYUDA, helping youth with diabetes in over 15 countries. Dr. Cuttriss continues to guide AYUDA’s efforts by serving as its Chairman of the Board. Visit www.ayudainc.net for more information and volunteer opportunities.
Given your early experiences and your recognition taking on public health issues in the developing world, what made you select Harbor for your training?
AYUDA and I are all about like-minded individuals attracting other liked-minded individuals. Over ten years ago, I was fortunate to have attracted a like-minded individual to AYUDA, and it just so happened that he (Neal Kaufman) had previously been part of the Harbor faculty. So when I later looked to him for advice on where to apply for residency in the LA area, there was one place that was an immediate match for like-minded individuals.
What has been the most rewarding thing about being a pediatric resident at Harbor?
In medical school being on the wards was challenging. Getting in early to pre-round and walking around on rounds for four plus hours was difficult, among other things. But that has not been my Harbor experience.
Harbor has been a completely different experience where I feel I am at home. I come in early with my coffee, I am greeted by a welcoming and terrific nursing staff, I am surrounded by residents who I enjoy working with, I am able to speak openly with attendings, and I am able to learn in a comfortable environment. Believe it or not, even being on the wards can be enjoyable! But the best thing is being surrounded by selfless people - from the social workers to the doctors- who are committed to kids and their right to live happy and healthy lives.
What do you think are the most challenging aspects of trying to change public health policy and advocating for children in economically impacted communities?
Being patient. Change takes time. Policy is not like giving an antibiotic and seeing a result overnight. And it’s important- especially at this time- that we, as child advocates, remind ourselves and others of that virtue while also remaining committed to the cause.
What advice would you give to future pediatricians who are interested in promoting children’s health and welfare?
Be yourself and follow what you are passionate about and the rest should follow. For example, my experience starting AYUDA was not planned - it just happened, I went with it, and it continues to evolve.
Also, a belief I have and we have within AYUDA that there is no need to recreate the wheel. Lots of great groups and people with ideas are out there, and it’s a matter of networking and finding your personal passionate niche.
Can you share an experience where you felt your work had changed someone’s life?
Fifteen years ago when I first visited Ecuador, I met kids and parents who had never met other kids or families with diabetes. They felt alone. The oldest “kid” I met with type 1 diabetes in Ecuador at that time was an 18-year-old and he was nearly blind. The younger kids did not have role models since diabetes and the lack of education was taking its toll prematurely. Now, thanks to the unwavering passion of so many parents and youth within Ecuador and the AYUDA community, when I go to Ecuador and I look around, I see girls in their 20s with diabetes who have healthy kids of their own, I see happy and healthy 18-year-olds without glasses showing a 5-year-old how to inject his own insulin, and I see kids and families who are smiling and no longer have to feel like they are alone.