Greetings! It has been ten years since my time as a “JIP-ster” with the Johnson Service Corps (then JIP-Johnson Intern Program). I have fond memories of my intentional living adventure with Jessica, Matt, Tricia, Hannes, Amanda, Will and Christy in our home on Elliott Road. Outside of my work placement, that year was filled with family dinners, silent meditation, challenging conversations, mentorship at Caffe Driade, praxis projects and lots of nutella eating. I continue to strive toward the core servant leadership values of communion, compassion, co-creation, collaboration, and character each day. I chose compassion as the topic for our end- of- year speech. I have not moved on from my JSC experience, I have moved forward with these values.
Although I came to JSC with the desire to attend medical school, my experiences that year helped to discern my own unique calling within the medical field. I currently work as a geriatric psychiatrist at Duke. My interest in this field extends back to my placement at the Seymour Senior Center in Chapel Hill. The most rewarding work there was my involvement with Caregivers Day Out – a program to provide respite for caregivers of loved ones with dementia. I was both emotionally and intellectually drawn to this. I enjoyed seeing caregivers brighten as they shared memories of first dates and supported them as they tearfully described losing a loved one. I was intrigued by the heterogeneity of cognitive changes seen in dementia. From medical school at UNC and throughout my residency and fellowship training, I sought out ways to enrich my education through opportunities in the aging field. I knew that supportive, empathic listening needed to be a part of my daily job as a physician.
I now see older adults challenged by experiences common in later life, such as managing a new or progressive medical condition, struggling with memory concerns, or caring for a loved one. Often they have not seen a psychiatrist earlier in life, and I help them navigate appropriate resources and discuss reasonable management and treatment options. I am also happy to see older adults with advanced medical comorbidities which may complicate previously stable psychiatric conditions. I offer medication management, supportive psychotherapy, discussions of non-pharmacological interventions for brain health, introductions to local senior centers or support groups, and referrals to other treatment approaches, such as electroconvulsive therapy. I have chosen to remain within the academic community as I enjoy collaborating with other providers and feel this is how my patients can receive the most comprehensive and compassionate care.
Personally, this past year has been the most trying one of my life. After starting my work as an attending physician at Duke, my husband and I welcomed our 2nd daughter. Life was very good. 6 months later, my mother died suddenly. She was not ill and died far too soon. I have struggled with this and confess that I have questioned my own vocation and faith. As I have navigated this life transition, my understanding of the JSC values – communion, compassion, co-creation, collaboration, and character – has deepened and I have gained strength. I now know grief in a way that I hadn’t before and can incorporate this into my work with my patients and their families. Just as I have moved forward with my JSC experience instead of moving on, I trust that I will move forward with my mother. JSC was a transformative experience for me and I am honored and thankful to have this opportunity for reflection. I will move forward embracing the JSC values and living the most authentically I can each day, committed to being the person I was created to be.