During her first clinical rotation in medical school, Vicki Kijewski, MD, fell in love with internal medicine. She forged strong relationships with her patients and enjoyed helping them with their physical needs.
“I noticed that psychiatric problems weren’t always treated at the same time as physical problems,” she says. “We often told patients, ‘follow up with your psychiatrist or see a counselor.’ During my last required clinical rotation, I studied psychiatry and I found the field fascinating.”
Kijewski came to Iowa, completed a combined internal medicine and psychiatry residency at UI Hospitals & Clinics, and now works on the geriatric psychiatry unit, as well as the inpatient internal medicine and psychiatry unit.
“I think I speak the language of both specialties and can really make a difference with complicated patients,” says Kijewski.
Treating the whole person
In Kijewski’s experience, many patients have both medical and psychiatric problems.
“Those issues are often not treated adequately, or they’re treated sequentially instead of concurrently,” she says.
While diagnosing medical issues as an internal medicine doctor takes one approach, Kijewski says psychiatry is much different.
“You can’t really obtain an x-ray or run a blood test to find out what the problem is,” says Kijewski. “You really have to sit down, talk to patients, examine patients, and get collateral information.”
COVID-19 has forced Kijewski to communicate more effectively with her patients, their families, and the treatment team.
“Masks and shields have made it more difficult to communicate with patients, especially if there is any hearing impairment or language barrier,” says Kijewski. “Masks also make it difficult to see expressions.”
Working on the medical psychiatric unit takes a village, according to Kijewski. The same is true for the geriatric psychiatry unit, where she works with a multi-disciplinary team including unit clerks, residents, pharmacists, social workers, medical students, nurses and nursing assistants, and occupational, residential, and physical therapists.
“I think everybody on the team sees something a little bit different when they’re taking care of the patient.” she says. “We have open lines of communication; we really listen to each other,” she says.
Kijewski says she enjoys learning more about her patients, hearing their unique stories, and helping them heal.
“I have the best job,” she says. “I really do.”