For this week’s faculty spotlight, we talk to Onyinye (Onyi) Iweala, MD, who looks forward to every new problem or patient complaint as an intellectual puzzle to be solved. In this interview, Iweala talks to us about the intellectual and emotional pleasures of working in internal medicine, following in the footsteps of a famous mother, and how she stays in shape while working full-time and raising two children.
How long have you been at Duke? How long have you been at the division of General Internal Medicine?
I initially started at Duke in October 2013 working as a moonlighter in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Duke Regional Hospital. I started working full time at the Durham VA Medical Center in the Hospital Medicine Division in January 2014 and joined the division of General Internal Medicine at Duke at that time as well.
What are your responsibilities within the division? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am part of the Hospital Medicine program within the Department of Medicine. The majority of my time is spent in direct patient care of veterans admitted to the inpatient General Medicine wards at the VA. I spend most of my time working with wonderful physicians and fantastic nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and PA students who are rotating on the Hospitalist Service. I also have the privilege of working with the Internal Medicine residents and medical students from Duke on the General Medicine teaching service at the VA. I find these to be the most action- packed and intense parts of my job and also incredibly rewarding. I learn so much from the residents and students who work with me.
What made you decide to enter the field of internal medicine? What other areas of interest do you have, and how do they tie in to this field?
What I love about Internal Medicine doctors is that they love to think. This is what drew me to the field to begin with. I love the challenge of being faced with a patient’s problem or presenting complaint and thinking about the possible etiologies and the pathophysiology of that problem. I love the fact that internists strive to have logical explanations or pathophysiology or evidence based medicine inform the diagnostic tests we perform and our therapeutic approaches to different patients.
I also love the patient-physician interaction. I like connecting with my patients and taking the time to make sure that each patient is on the same page as his or her providers about the plan of care. I’ve found that large part of Hospital Medicine involves communication and coordination between the patients and their families and all the different members of the health care team including nurses, allied health, social work, and our consultants. I enjoy interacting with each subset of the health care team in order to achieve our overall shared goal of providing great patient care.
Along with your three siblings, you followed your mother, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the finance director of Nigeria and a previous managing director of the World Bank, to Harvard University. What was it like following in such large footsteps?
It’s really awesome to be my mother’s daughter. She is a fantastic example of someone who has been able to pursue her passion all the while making a global impact and improving the economic conditions for a significant number of people. It was very helpful that she actually went to Harvard for undergrad because believe or not, she was actually able to advise me about what classes to take based on personal experience and the experiences of her roommates who took the same classes 25 years earlier.
Plus, hanging out with my mom, you never know just whom you’re going to get a chance to meet — sitting presidents, chairwoman of the US federal reserve, the guy that invented Paypal and is funding travel to space, rockstars, film stars, business moguls, traditional royalty. I have met all sorts of people from just being in the right place at the right time with my mom.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the division?
I love to read novels – particularly those that focus on society and culture / the melding of or clashes between cultures . I’m also passionate about my two children – my daughter, Adaora who turns 4 on July 14, and my son, Emeka who turns 2 on August 31st. Finally, I like to work out whenever I can, either by running or, more recently I’ve gotten into the Insanity workouts by the celebrity trainer Shaun T. They are really insane.