20 Years, 20 Leaders: Janette Nesheiwat, MD
"There really is a way to live longer and healthier."
Our connection to the experiences of those who came before helps to define the present and future of medicine. The Foundation is celebrating 20 years by joining in conversation with 20 women leaders in all aspects of medicine to understand their stories and how their experiences will shape the next generation.
Janette Nesheiwat, MD, is medical director of CityMD, an urgent care concept with more than 100 centers in the greater New York City area. She completed U.S. Army Advanced Officer Training prior to becoming a Family and Emergency Physician and has led medical relief missions around the world. She also is a medical news correspondent who has provided commentary for CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, Good Morning America and other media outlets.
Here’s what we learned from Dr. Nesheiwat:
Why did you choose to go into medicine or your related field?
I was raised by my mom who was not only a widow with five children but a very dedicated registered nurse. Her work fascinated me early on with her emphasis on health, wellness and saving lives. She inspired me to become a physician and in her words: go out and help others and make a difference in people’s lives. She led by example, comforting those in pain, helping to heal the sick, and volunteering with crippled children, elders in nursing homes, hospice and more. Her outstanding skills and compassion towards the ill made such an indelible imprint on my heart as a young child.
What’s your core philosophy?
I am a firm believer in preventive medicine and I really enjoy reaching out to educate the public on how to eat, live, and stay healthy in as simple terms as possible. I can give a dissertation on hand washing alone, which is the single most major route of spreading disease.
What motivates you?
I am motivated when I see people can have affordable health care. I am motivated when I see people are responding to warnings against smoking, too much sun, and the harmful effects of too much alcohol.
How do you motivate others?
I try very hard to relate to people and give them the time they need. This makes them feel valued and respected and I find this is when I am most successful with their health care. Additionally, as someone who had very humble beginnings, I appreciate what I have and where I came from. This always helps me never lose sight of my roots and keeps me grateful for all the opportunities I had in order to reach my goals. People have been very complimentary and interested in my life, which motivates them to achieve and believe in themselves. If I could do it, so can they.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
As a physician, the biggest challenges I have faced are people who can’t afford health care and have allowed their illness to progress which otherwise could have been prevented or treated with better outcomes. Some cases are emotionally upsetting, like a Hispanic mother of four who had a history of chest pain but couldn't take time off to go to a physician because she couldn’t afford it. She came in dead on arrival, but her children in the lobby were fearful and anxiously asking about their mom. I looked at these young children with tears in my eyes, as this could have been my siblings and me. The news was hard to give them.
Humans fail. Please share a time when you failed and what you did next to move forward.
I take a lot of pride in the delivery of care, but a doctor deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly. A patient became psychotic, indignant, and paranoid as a side effect of the drug they ingested. I was fearful he would harm me or one of the staff. It got out of control and I was forced to call the police and ambulance who took the patient in for hospitalization. In hindsight, perhaps we should have realized sooner that if a patient is intoxicated on drugs they are unaware of their behavior and their judgment is impaired.
Who was your most important mentor(s) and why?
My most important mentors were my attending physicians during my residency at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. They were outstanding educators, teachers, and true examples of healers of the arts. I learned so much, from bedside manner and the most invasive procedures, to handling families, delivering babies, and working in the emergency room and intensive care unit. Every day was remarkable and I will always be thankful for the mentors who impacted my career.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
I am continually learning lessons in life with each patient I see. There really is a way to live longer and healthier. We must learn to do things in moderation. I strongly believe in exercise and avoiding smoking, drinking, and drugs.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Success is establishing a goal and not only reaching, but exceeding it. I learned this from my mom who never settled but continued to push, encourage, and advance not only her education but also my siblings and me. As a result, two are lawyers, one is a book author, one is former deputy secretary of state and today press envoy for hostage affairs, and me, a physician and medical television news contributor.
What do you see in store for the future of medicine and related fields?
It is a field within which it has become much harder to achieve, and that’s a concern. The world can use more doctors.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women in medicine and the medical sciences?
Create more technology, advance research, help eradicate cancer and other diseases, and make this world a healthier place to live in.
The Backstory on Dr. Nesheiwat
Janette was born in New York City to Jordanian parents and began practicing medicine in a small town just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, where she became passionate about public health. After a few years, she took the risk of moving to New York to widen her impact on families and the healthcare industry at large, emphasizing a straight-forward, patient-centered approach to care.