Summer 2023

Members & Publications


Dr. Shelby Sweat Interviews AAPM&R Member-at-Large, Dr. Nneka Ifejika


1. As we enter a new academic year, goal setting is at the forefront of our minds. Do you have a process of setting or modifying your goals each year and how do you stay on track with those?

At the beginning of each academic year, I complete a status check of ongoing projects. This begins at home here in Dallas, starting with the UT Southwestern Stroke Outcomes and Continuum of Care Research (SOCCR) Lab and expanding out to projects we participate in across the country. If a protocol is not enrolling, or we are having other difficulties, such as problems with administrative support, protected time to write manuscripts/grants or even concerns regarding freezer space for research samples, I reach out to friends and colleagues to help move the needle forward. 


During the summer, I schedule Grand Rounds presentations for the Fall and Spring semesters and identify national and international conferences best suited for our research. Junior lab members are the primary presenters of our work.


Staying on-track involves a fair number of meetings. We have a bi-weekly SOCCR Lab meeting and a monthly Stroke Continuum of Care Committee meeting. Everyone is asked to give their input. We record and transcribe those meetings, so if I miss a point or two, I review the video. 


    2. Can you share a major lesson that you learned during your residency training that has helped you throughout your career?

    Residency is the one time in your career when you receive mentorship, supervision and teaching, therefore, be a resident. Learn. Absorb. The depth and breadth of physiatry is remarkable. I spent four consecutive months a PGY3 on the Spinal Cord Injury Service at the DeBakey VAMC in Houston, where I learned so much about wound care. It’s a skill set I still possess, and it comes in handy when stroke survivors have pressure injuries secondary to immobility. 

    Do you have any tips for preventing burnout or healing from moral injury?

    Oh man, this is a deep question. I actively work to protect my peace. Use templates for notes and have patients’ complete documentation electronically before they arrive. Discrete fields are wonderful. Find colleagues with whom you have a mutualistic relationship. I even avoid commensals - you want colleagues who have an interest in growing with you. We created a Stroke Rehabilitation Service Line and determined the best way to facilitate good outcomes was to work together, streamline the PM&R consult process and get physiatry input on day one of the acute stroke hospitalization. There is a comfort in knowing we are working together as a truly collaborative team.  When you are on vacation, unplug and decompress. Looking at the EMR on your smartphone is a no go. 


    I am thankful to have a group of friends - real ones, no placebo - at work and at home, who I support and who reciprocate that support with fruitful intention. Finally, once someone shows you who they are, believe them. Don’t allow people who have terribly harmed you double back for another round.

    4. Do you have any leadership advice for those early-career physiatrists pursing academic medicine?

    In addition to the AAPM&R Future Leaders Program - check it out, it’s an incredible opportunity - speak to faculty outside of your home institution about their road to academia. It’s important to receive an outside perspective. Think about your interests - do you enjoy teaching? Research? Administration?  There is a place in academic medicine for you.