When you ask Priya Chaudhari, a nurse practitioner at Washington University in Missouri, why she chose movement disorders as her specialty, she’ll tell you it’s been a long, personal journey to this choice.
Priya’s mom is living with advanced Parkinson disease. As she puts it, “Movement disorders is a calling for me.” After her mom was diagnosed, a position in this specialty opened up, and it felt meant to be. “Patients may think that clinicians don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes,” she said, “but I know. Often, I’ll share with them that I, too, understand. That I walk in their shoes.”
In fact, Priya feels a sense of family and deep bond with her patients and other adult children. “It’s like we’re linked,” she said. She feels a natural connection with adult children who experience firsthand the journey of caring for their parents, or feeling loss and grief, or sharing in the memories of what their parents were like when they were growing up, before Parkinson’s.
It’s Priya’s personal connection to the disease that impacts the way she cares for and educates her patients. Having additional insight into living with the disease, she says she now emphasizes the social component of care. “It’s more than medications and devices,” she said. Wellbeing is about “social support and community.” We need each other and the understanding that only those living or loving someone with the disease can provide. Priya goes out of her way to encourage all of her patients to find that social connection, whether it’s a Parkinson’s support group or any other group that excites them. She often recommends patients explore the offerings at their local senior center or religious or spiritual community, if that’s important to them. “For me,” she said, “it’s about caring about the whole person – holistic care.”
The Heart of an APP
Priya believes advanced practice providers (APPs) like her are uniquely positioned to provide not only the therapeutic expertise their patients need, but the whole-person care and patient education that’s vital to their wellbeing. She’s attuned to healthcare access: if people want to see a neurologist or movement disorders specialist in her area, she says they may have to wait a year for an appointment. But APPs can provide the support they need with far less wait time.
She also considers healthcare access for patients living outside big cities. Priya has patients who drive three to four hours to access an appointment with her. These patients often live in rural areas without the presence of local support groups or resources to lean on. “I believe part of my job,” she said, “is to always be on the lookout for resources that are local, that can meet patients where they are, no matter where they live.”
As she continued, she got choked up, “I want patients to know that we care. We really care. And I want them to know they’re not alone. It takes a village and we are that village.”
Connection Benefits Patients and Clinicians
When I spoke to Priya, she had just returned to her clinic after gathering with us and healthcare providers from across the country at our Advanced Therapeutics in Movement & Related Disorders (ATMRD) Congress in Washington, DC. I asked her how she was feeling after the congress, which included a full day of education and networking designed exclusively for APPs in movement disorders by APPs in movement disorders. She smiled: “It was the best conference ever.”
“It was empowering to be in a room full of APPs from all over the country,” she went on. She has already arranged follow-up conversations with other clinicians to listen and learn how they run their clinics, what works for them, how they build an integrated team with doctors and social workers—the entire support system. She emphasized the power of sharing knowledge, tools, and camaraderie in reigniting her passion and benefiting her patients.
“I’ll definitely be using PMD Alliance as a resource for my patients now,” she said. What’s most exciting is that she has already talked to her patients about the new advanced therapeutics she learned about at ATMRD. In fact, the day we spoke, she had been on the phone with a pharmaceutical rep she met at ATMRD to help get a patient access to one of the innovative medications she learned about at the congress. “When I’ve shared these new options with patients,” she said, “they’ve come back to me saying, ‘This is great.’” Priya has taken to heart what she learned and, less than a week after the congress, it’s already improving the lives of her patients.
We are Worthy of Joy
The other pearl of wisdom Priya has been weaving into her work since ATMRD is subtle, but poignant. “One of my takeaways comes from something another APP said on stage: everyone deserves to find their moment of joy.” For APPs facing burnout, they are worthy of a slice of joy each day. Patients, too. “I’d like to help my patients carve out moments of joy by finding support in their communities.”
I asked Priya what her mom thinks about her work in the movement disorders field. “My mom is at the point where she doesn’t know what I do,” she said. “But I imagine she would be proud. My dad is very proud.”
This journey has not been easy, but it has grown her. From her patients and her mom, she has learned compassion. It is this compassion that shapes her deepest wish: a cure. “It may seem far off, like we’re not there yet,” she admitted, but she holds on to hope. From living beside her mom, she knows firsthand that a cure is what this community deserves.