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Treating the Whole Patient

Nekesha Oliphant, MD, Physician of the Year, JPS Health Network

Nekesha Oliphant, MD, Vice Chair of Behavioral Health developed a passion for medicine at a young age, but during high school, she realized that pursuing a career in medicine was not in her plans. Instead, she decided to follow a different career path. Combining her love for music and fascination with the human brain, she decided to pursue a career in music therapy.

"I thought to myself, 'I'll just be a music therapist,' and I did that for a few years. And then I remembered thinking, 'I'm supposed to do more,'" Dr. Oliphant said. "I decided to go to medical school, and that was a long journey. I did four years of medical school and a double residency in family medicine and psychiatry."

Dr. Oliphant was a member of an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team before she applied to medical school. This team provided assistance to severely mentally ill patients in the community. It was formed after the state hospital declared that patients couldn't be committed for life. The team's goal was to reintegrate patients back into the community and prevent them from being readmitted to the hospital. Dr. Oliphant's time on the ACT team helped her have a clear focus on what she wanted to do in medicine.

"I was a case manager on the ACT team, and that's where I first saw the divide between medical and behavioral healthcare," Dr. Oliphant said. "It was either that the primary care doctors would be afraid to have the psychiatric patients in their waiting room alone. Or they would stop the psychiatric medicine because they would interfere with the medical medicine. So, it would be like, 'We need to start you on this medicine for your blood pressure, but you can't be on this mood stabilizer.' I also saw a patient say, 'You're my doctor,' to the psychiatrist, and they respond, 'But, I can't manage your diabetes or thyroids; you have to see a primary care doctor.' The patients were at a middle ground where no one could treat them fully. It made sense to combine because I wanted to be the doctor who can treat the whole person."

Dr. Oliphant's passion for fixing the divide between medicine and psychiatry is also what invoked her passion for teaching.

"Determining how to affect change gets into why I teach," Dr. Oliphant said. "I can only do so much, so I also teach residents to have their eyes open to what to watch out for and consider the whole patient. I say, 'If they say something hurts, I'm going to expect you to go examine it. I'm going to expect you to review labs, etc.'”

"I do what I do because I love it, not for the award.”

Dr. Oliphant's commitment to patient care and resident education has not gone unnoticed. In December 2023, JPS Health Network organized its annual Medical Staff and Advanced Practice Professionals Award Ceremony to celebrate the exceptional care provided by its staff. During the event, Dr. Oliphant was named Physician of the Year for her outstanding dedication to patient care, leadership, and teaching. She knew she had been nominated, but it shocked her when she heard her name being called for Physician of the Year.

"I'm a behind-the-scenes person. I want to see outcomes, patients getting better, students having that moment of realization, and residents passing their boards, so I was surprised when they called my name for Physician of the Year. I didn't think anyone was going to vote for me. I was just happy that I made the ballot. I do what I do because I love it, not for the award.”

Dr. Oliphant has been a dedicated member of the JPS community for nearly 10 years. Her passion for teaching, the community, and the patient population at JPS is evident not only in her words but also in her work.

"Dr. Nikki Oliphant is an asset to Acclaim and JPS,” Nadia Alawi-Kakomanolis, MD, MBA, Interim Vice President Clinical Operations, Acclaim Multi-Specialty Group. "She works hard to drive the quality of care for our very vulnerable population. With her leadership, the behavioral health team has done amazing work to improve the mental and physical well-being of the population in Tarrant County. She always strives to do what is best for the patients, the network, and her clinicians. It is an honor to work with Dr. Oliphant."

Through her dedication to educating the next generation, she has inspired many. Recently, she received a message from a former resident who expressed that she was one of the most influential people in her life. The former resident went on to say that “much of who I am as a psychiatrist was shaped to emulate the brilliance and power I saw in you.”

"This is why I do what I do," Dr. Oliphant said. "That's better than any award or bonus; just reading those words made me feel like I was doing something right."