As a board-certified neurologist, Wynde Cheek, D.O.’03, FACN, learned from mentor Robert Simkins, D.O.’75, how to have “difficult conversations with patients with devastating conditions.” She manages that challenge by keeping up in her profession and walking patients through their diagnoses, her factual findings and options for treatment.
“I come from a long line of educators and health care providers. As a physician I’m both,” says the Montana-based physician. “My philosophy is that patients should leave with not only knowledge about their conditions, but also a sense of responsibility for what they can control as the central focus of the health care team.”
That education orientation has also been valuable to Cheek in her role as national president of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists (ACN)/ American College of Osteopathic Neurologists and Psychiatrists (ACONP). Inaugurated last October for a one-year term, she is one of a handful of women and one of the youngest in the college’s 83-year history to accept the gavel. She quickly realized that to be effective in the role, she needed to help millennials in the profession – individuals born in the early 1980s – and its baby boomers – people born from 1946 to 1964 – better understand each other.
“Boomers are hierarchical. They believe everyone should climb the ladder just like they were required to do. Millennials look at other people as equals, that everyone is on the same level regardless of age, training or experience. It’s critical to understand and respect both perspectives,” she says. “I’m a young Generation X’er” – the demographic cohort between the two – “so I became an interpreter between the generations. I’m a catalyst for taking the best each generation has to offer to advance our college. By creating bridges built on experience, creativity and passion for our profession, the three generations can come together and be brilliant.”
Cheek had served on the ACN executive board for two years and, before that, on its board of governors for six years; last year, as ACN’s national program director, she coordinated educational conferences in neurology and psychiatry throughout the U.S.
“It was a challenge I was eager to embark on,” she says. “I met so many people – it was like talking with the ‘George Clooney’s’ of neuroscience, major researchers presenting breaking information and textbook authors I read in training. Now I can call them my friends and colleagues. What a privilege!”
It has also been rewarding how other female members of ACN have responded to her presidency. “One woman in her 60s came up to me and gave me a hug,” she recalls. “She said, ‘I have been part of the college for years and have never felt as inspired.’ I try to be very inclusive, to make sure no one is intimidated by my leadership and everyone is being listened to.”
Cheek migrated toward leadership activities as a student and member of the last class to matriculate into the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences, before it was renamed DMU. She was president of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association chapter and later a national student representative to the American Osteopathic Association. She and her classmate-now-spouse, Nick Ford, D.O.’03, an anesthesiologist, were of like minds on the importance of professional engagement.
“I’m grateful to have attended a medical school that promotes professional leadership development,” Cheek says. “Whether I’m at state or national events, I’m proud to see so many DMU alumni in leadership roles. DMU grads are well represented and continue to use our talents to ensure osteopathic physicians have a voice in the health care process.”
As a medical intern and neurology resident through Kettering Health Network and Grandview Hospital Medical Center in Dayton, OH, she pressed senior colleagues for ways she could become involved in the ACN, prompting early leadership opportunities. Now an ACN Fellow with additional Certification of Qualifications in neurophysiology, she is a local, regional and national speaker and educator in neurology, neuropsychiatry, neuroscience and professional development. For her broad efforts, she was awarded the 2018 Rising Star Award by the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation.
“I always say neurology chose me,” she says. “Neurology was, and continues to be, very intriguing to me. You need to be comfortable with the complex material and curious about the unknown.”
Given her current extensive leadership obligations, Cheek has pulled back from full-time direct patient care, but she is cognizant of the need to get back. “Montana is a large state with few physicians. It is 92 percent federally designated medically underserved. However, from firsthand knowledge, I educate legislators on rural and unserved health needs and ways to address them at the state and national levels.”
Working in a high-demand profession in a state with great unmet needs can contribute to burnout, she acknowledges, but advancements in her specialty keep her excited.
“Research in the field is exploding. The amount of material coming out provides a ‘wow’ factor and really makes the practice rewarding,” she says. “It never bores me, and it keeps me on my toes.”
Cheek recalls an attending during her residency who became “emotional” when then-new injectable medications for multiple sclerosis were available. “He said that when he got out of residency, the only treatment was aspirin – nothing to directly affect the disease process or patient quality of life,” she says. “We have options now. We know more about using different medicinal modalities that really have had a positive impact on our patients, their outlook on life and functionality.”