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Octavia Kincaid, MD, Neurologist at NorthShore, doesn’t back down when she is presented with a challenge, which lead her to the specific field of neurology within medicine.
Here, Dr. Kincaid tells us what she finds most rewarding about her involvement with NorthShore’s new ALS Clinic and how her pre-medicine life experiences helped her better understand and communicate with patients.
What attracted you to the field of medicine? Was there a particular moment of realization? Where did it all start?
I enjoy solving problems and I wanted to do something “useful” in life – I worked for a long time in the arts and in sales, and realized I wanted a different direction and meaning in my life.
When did your attention turn to neurology? What led you to this specialty?
In retrospect, there were signs throughout my life that I would be drawn to neurology but it wasn’t until my first clinical rotation in medical school, when I worked with a team of neurologists for a month, that I saw the possibilities. Neurology is an endless challenge as the field evolves and expands. The clinical practice of neurology involves logic, empathy, problem solving and personalized care for each patient. Even after this realization, though, I waffled about my decision for a long time. I met a lot of resistance to neurology as a career change – I was actually told that, since MRIs were becoming more common place at the time, neurologist would no longer be needed – I still get a good laugh out of that idea! I confirmed my decision with another month-long clinical experience in my final year of medical school.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Each patient presents with a problem and using my knowledge, skill and experience to understand the nature of the problem is the core of my daily practice. In neurology, it is common that we do not (yet) have a definitive answer or solution to every problem, symptom or disease but we can offer patients and families insight and education about the situation and the future. Being a teacher or guide for my patients brings a level of satisfaction beyond merely making a diagnosis.
What do you find most challenging about your field?
Although expanding knowledge and discoveries are an exciting part of neurology, it is challenging to keep up with ever-changing features, even within one subspecialty of neurology.
How did you become an expert in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?
I started working with patients and families living with ALS during my residency and fellowship training and continued to participate in multidisciplinary ALS clinics in my previous position at a university-based practice. Working with a variety of specialist healthcare providers in an ALS clinic has provided me with understanding and experience with the myriad of manifestations and complications which can present with each case. When we first explored the idea of opening the NorthShore ALS Clinic, my primary goal was to bring all of these specialists together to care for my patients.
What does the NorthShore ALS Clinic offer? What makes NorthShore’s Clinic unique?
The NorthShore ALS Clinic, sponsored by the Chicago-area chapter of the ALS Association (ALSA), is the first multidisciplinary clinic for the care of patients and families living with ALS in the northern suburbs. We provide “one-stop” comprehensive care for our patients across multiple disciplines, allowing patients to receive care directed at their specific circumstances while remaining part of the NorthShore system. We also work with patients receiving care at other, more distant clinics (e.g. Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital) to coordinate care closer to home. By working with the ALS Association, we are part of a larger network of ALS Clinic, both regionally and nationally.
Who works there and what impact does their work make?
Specialists available to patients in the NorthShore ALS Clinic include neuromuscular neurologist, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, social work, dietary specialist (nutritionist), orthotics, dedicated neurology nursing specialist and a home care representative from the ALS Association. In addition to these providers in the clinic at the time of the visit, we also work closely and coordinate visits with a team of specialists in pulmonology, gastroenterology and otolaryngology. We are also working with NorthShore Home Health and Hospice to provide care in the home as needed. As all of our consultants and clinic team members are part of the NorthShore system, we can provide integrated care with simplified communication and scheduling.
What do you think is the most important thing everyone should know about ALS?
Obviously, everyone involved in the care of patients and families living with ALS is focused on finding a cure, but I also stress to my patients that, despite the fear and anxiety that the diagnosis generates, there is life after diagnosis. My patients work, travel, spend time with family and do what they can to enjoy the time they have, which is a good model for all of us, regardless of our current health status. My job is to increase comfort and decrease disability as much as possible, allowing my patients to live functional, independent lives as long as possible.