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Janice M. Barnhart, MD, MS, FACP
Locum Tenens Hospitalist
Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor of Epidemiology &
Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New
University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL
SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn, New York
Efforts to resuscitate a seriously ill toddler had come to a
near standstill in the emergency room at New York City's
Presbyterian Hospital when Dr. Janice Barnhart's mother heard a
female doctor burst into the emergency room shouting at staff,
"Don't stand there and let that baby die." The unconscious toddler
was the future Dr. Janice Barnhart. She had been rushed to the
emergency room after swallowing white-coated pills that "looked
like M & Ms candy."
The physician's knowledge and experience saved Dr. Barnhart's
life that day. Knowing that a young child's veins can be difficult
to access, the take-charge doctor was able to resuscitate her
through the heel of her foot. Dr. Barnhart says it was an
experience that left a permanent mark, not only on her heel, but in
her mind and heart as well. Over the years, listening to her mother
retell the story, Dr. Barnhart was continually reminded of the
female doctor who knew what to do in a critical situation, had the
courage to take charge, and cared deeply about saving the life of a
little girl she did not know.
Finding her path
Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Barnhart didn't always
know that she wanted to be a doctor. She only knew that she liked
classes that were academically challenging. She admits she
struggled with confidence and says that it was others who believed
in her-her mother, a teacher in elementary school, and a high
school guidance counselor-who pushed her in directions that would
eventually put her on the path to college and medical school.
While attending Washington Irving High School in Manhattan, Dr.
Barnhart was delighted to receive a letter of acceptance from
Barnard College in New York City, but chose instead to attend
Howard University in Washington, DC. She says she wanted the
experience of living away from home, the opportunity to attend a
black university, and noted that cost was a big issue. Raised by a
working class single-parent mother, Dr. Barnhart did not want the
burden of huge student loans and says she is so fortunate that
scholarship monies and part-time jobs helped finance 8 years of
higher education without leaving her swamped in debt.
Howard University did not have a biology program, so Dr.
Barnhart majored in Zoology and minored in chemistry. While going
to school, she worked as a phlebotomist at a nearby hospital and
got an insider's view of the hospital medicine. After graduating
from Howard, she went to Gainesville, Florida, where she received
her medical degree from the University of Florida College of
Medicine. Initially, she began her medical residency training as a
Med-Peds resident, but after a year transferred to SUNY Health
Science Center in Brooklyn where she joined an internal medicine
residency program. She laughs as she admits, "I simply could not
handle all the crying on the pediatric wards."
Her turn to cry
While studying for her boards and doing rotations at an inner
city hospital, Dr. Barnhart began to see how issues like
disparities in care and access to care were affecting the patient
population. She decided she wanted to find a way to help improve
care for minorities and women. It turns out that opportunity would
come in the form of research related to public health issues. After
spotting an ad in a medical journal, Dr. Barnhart applied and was
accepted to a Fellowship program at the University of California,
Los Angeles (UCLA) where she studied health services research and
got her Master of Science degree in epidemiology from UCLA's School
of Public Health.
After getting her Master's degree, Dr. Barnhart moved back to
New York to accept a position as instructor of Medicine,
Epidemiology & Population Health at the Albert Einstein College
of Medicine in New York. Her work focused on determining the impact
of clinical and nonclinical factors on racial/ethnic and gender
disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular
disease. In addition to working on grant-sponsored studies, Dr.
Barnhart collaborated with the Department of Family Medicine to
establish a disparities research center at Einstein. Her work
earned her the ACP 2013 Award for Diversity and Access to Care.
"If it wasn't for the fear of uncontrollable sobbing," says Dr.
Barnhart, "I would have cried during ACP's awards ceremony. It was
such an honor to be acknowledged like that." For Dr. Barnhart, ACP
has been a tremendous resource for networking. "ACP is full of
phenomenal people," she says, "and its commitment to advancing
internal medicine and improving access to quality health care is
very important to me."
The heart and science of medicine
During the years she spent working in the field of research, Dr.
Barnhart maintained her clinical skills by working part-time as a
hospitalist. It turns out that was a good decision, as she is now
transitioning into a career as a full-time hospitalist. "Generating
small data-based research studies is fascinating work and can be
rewarding," says Dr. Barnhart, "but the ongoing challenge to get
funded and published is something I'm happy to leave behind at this
point." And besides, the best part of being a doctor, according to
Dr. Barnhart, is "being on the front lines of medicine, helping
patients improve and feel better." Making the right diagnosis is a
challenge she loves, and when patients recover from serious
illnesses such as acute renal failure, pneumonia, or heart failure,
it is the best reward possible.
Dr. Barnhart is a real life example that a career in internal
medicine can open the door to a variety of opportunities. From
research and academia to patient care, she is now combining her
passion for travel with her career in hospital medicine. Dr.
Barnhart works for an agency that sends her on assignment to
hospitals around the country. She recently completed a 3-month
rotation at a hospital in the state of Washington and before she
begins a new assignment in September, she will take time off in
August to travel to Central America with members of her church and
her 22-year-old daughter who recently graduated from college.
Part vacation, part church outreach, Dr. Barnhart will spend 5
days of her trip doing pro bono care at a free clinic in Guatemala
City. "I believe, and I want my daughter to experience, how much we
have to be grateful for in our lives." Dr. Barnhart believes it is
important to work hard, but says, "Everything can't be about money.
Compassion is important. Service to others is important."
Dr. Barnhart's philosophy is, "I always try to do for my
patients what I would want a doctor to do for me or a member of my
family." A philosophy she adopted, in part, from a doctor she
encountered in an emergency room so many years ago. Dr. Barnhart
isn't a cardiologist, but she is a doctor who is all heart, who
cares about people she doesn't know, and who well understands that
the best part of being a doctor is "being on the front lines of
medicine, helping patients improve and feel better."
September 2013 Issue of IMpact
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