50: Faith & a Physician’s Life With Rev. Dr. Kisha Hartwick

by Coach Gabriella Dennery MD | Podcast, Work Life Balance

“I practice medicine differently from other people and what I do is good, and I’m good at what I do, and I don’t have to do it like everyone else.” Kisha Hartwick MD

In today’s episode Coach Gabriella Dennery MD talks with Dr. Kisha Hartwick about being a practicing psychiatrist and an ordained minister. Dr. Hartwick believes in taking the whole patient into perspective, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Tune in to hear about her integrative approach to medicine and how her beliefs guide her in all areas of her life. 

Excerpts from the show:

“So Kisha, why did you choose psychiatry?” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

“Oh, that’s an easy one! So when I decided to go into medicine I thought I would do something very general. I thought I would come back to my little tiny small town and be the town doctor and practice family practice. What I found out when I got into medical school is that I was so excited to get to all the clinical rotations once I got through the bookwork part. But when I got into those rotations I was not loving it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life.’ I kept having trouble in my rotations because I would be in the room talking with a patient working on whatever they were there to work on for the day and my preceptor always had to knock on the door and pull me out and say, ‘You’re taking too long, you’ve got other patients waiting.’ So that was a problem until I got into psychiatry. Psychiatry was the first place where I could sit and talk with people and not feel like I had to put the whole conversation into eight minutes or less. I felt like I could not only address the issue that they came in for that day but really look at why that’s an issue in the first place. So if Mrs. Jones came in because her blood sugar was high, they wanted me to just fix the blood sugar. But nobody was stopping to ask why is the blood sugar high in the first place? What’s going on in your life? She wants to talk about how she’s worried about her son and stresses at work and all of these things. Psychiatry I found to be the only place that I could spend time with patients to actually address those things.” -Kisha Hartwick MD

“Does being an ordained minister have an impact on your approach with patients?” -Gabriella Dennery MD 


“Oh it absolutely has an impact. Even at the beginning I kind of thought that I would be a practicing psychiatrist who was a closet minister, if that makes sense. Like I think I thought my patients and colleagues might never know that I’m a minister. Not that I would hide it on purpose, but it felt like two separate parts of my life. However, as I moved through the process of being ordained, (I was) recognizing that every part of my life is ministry. So there’s two ways that being a minister affects how I show up with patients. Number one, being a minister affects how I show up in my own life. How well I do with taking care of myself, how well I do with maintaining awareness of my connection with spirit, how well I do with keeping myself grounded and centered because the better I can be in those ways the better I can show up for my patients, so that when I’m in the room, just me and the patient and the door closes, I’m not worried about thinking about my issues, my life problems, my things. I’m able to fully focus on what it is that this patient needs from me right now and trusting and knowing that I’m fully equipped to offer whatever that is. Also knowing that part of being fully equipped to offer whatever it is that the patient needs from me right now means that all of what that patient needs isn’t just coming from me as a person, as a human, but it’s the spirit who’s working through me to support this patient and to really make room for healing to happen.” -Kisha Hartwick MD

“So the pandemic, what was that like for you in terms of being a witness (working in the Emergency Department) to all of this?” -Gabriella Dennery MD 


“I feel like we signed up for this. As physicians we signed up for serving. We signed up for taking care of people at their greatest moment of need and as a minister it’s like I’ve double signed up for that. So, honestly it was a hassle donning the PPE and all the layers of masks and shields and taking one set of clothes and changing before I get into the unit and changing again before I get to my car. Keeping a separate pair of shoes and you know the things we kind of had to do to keep ourselves protected was a hassle. However, I felt and still feel very grateful and very humble for the opportunity to serve at that moment. Was it scary? Yes. Was it a hassle? Yes. Was it difficult? Absolutely. You know people are worried about dying. And although as a psychiatrist they weren’t coming to see me because of a Covid positive status, I saw some people who had Covid positive status who didn’t know until after I talked to them. In fact, I picked up a lot of folks because we would screen people for Covid before we would admit them to the psychiatric unit and they’d be all ready to go to the psychiatric unit and they’d come back with a positive test. They didn’t know, we didn’t know, and now you’re in the hospital for a different reason. It’s interesting to see and I saw this happen a few times. The people who came in the hospital because they were suicidal and thought their life wasn’t worth living, and I said, ‘I’m going to keep you in the hospital. I’m going to admit you to the psychiatric unit where we can make sure you stay safe and help you get back to a place where you are no longer feeling suicidal.’ The moment that test came back positive for Covid all of a sudden life was important to them. All of a sudden it’s a different perspective. So that’s kind of what my interface with Covid looked like. I think my biggest area of service was with my teammates. The nurses and techs who spent more time in the room with patients than the rest of us do, they are the people that when the doctor leaves the room the patient will say, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ I think that the biggest toll has really been on them. So I just took it on as my personal project to check on my people, my staff, my nurses. Just check in with them and ask, ‘How are you doing and how are you managing?’ To show them that even though the rest of the world gets to shut up in their homes and close off and don’t have to come out, and we do, we still don’t have to be victim to this experience. We are called for this and God chose us for this. We still don’t have to be victims to this experience. I’ll remind the staff members that their presence here is important and these patients need you. What you are bringing and what you provide and what you bring to the table, if you weren’t here to provide it they wouldn’t be getting all that they need. Honestly, I literally would say this very often, ‘Everybody can’t do this. What we’re doing right here today on this shift and this hospital and this emergency department, everybody can’t do this. But you guys can do this. You guys are doing this and you guys are great at doing this.’ So I think it’s the difference between having the perspective of, ‘Oh God, here we are and it’s so unfair that we have to be here.’ No. It’s not unfair. It’s what you were put here for.” -Kisha Hartwick MD

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

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