SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — When Dr. Careyana Brenham awoke to answer her phone at 3 a.m., it was Tabatha Wells on the line, crying and upset.
Wells, a young doctor in training at Springfield's Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, wanted to add obstetrics to the skills she could offer her future patients. But at 3 a.m., she was in the midst of a potentially life-altering crisis.
She got help from someone who recently received statewide recognition for mentoring the next generation of physicians.
Brenham, 39, a Rochester resident and 10-year SIU faculty member, was honored as the Family Medicine Teacher of the Year by the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.
It was Brenham who "stayed on the phone and talked me 'off the ledge,'" Wells recalled.
At the time, Wells was caring for an expectant mother who, minutes before, had had an unplanned Caesarean delivery at Memorial Medical Center.
The bewildered mother saw her baby being resuscitated and whisked to the neonatal intensive-care unit at St. John's Hospital.
At that moment, the stress seemed overwhelming for Wells, then 29 years old. At that moment, she wanted to abandon the training that would enable her to deliver babies after completing a family medicine residency.
But Brenham, an experienced family physician who had gone through obstetrical training years before and had delivered hundreds of babies, helped Wells deal with the emotions and anxiety of an uncertain delivery. Wells later would learn that the baby would be fine.
"She talked me through it and told me about the experiences that she had," said Wells, a Chicago native who completed her residency, which included OB training, in 2012.
Brenham "became my best friend here in Springfield," said Wells, 32, who now is on SIU's faculty.
Brenham, a 1992 graduate of Rochester High School and a 2000 graduate of the medical school, is director of SIU's family medicine residency and the third SIU doctor to receive the academy's teaching award. SIU's Dr. Robert Ewart and Dr. Amber Barnhart, now both semi-retired, previously received the award.
Brenham's father, Springfield Clinic family physician and former SIU faculty member Michael Brewer, received the academy's Family Physician of the Year award in 2010.
Brenham was nominated for the award by Wells and by Dr. Janet Albers, whom Brenham succeeded as director of the residency program.
Albers, who now is chief executive officer of the SIU Center for Family Medicine, said Brenham is "truly inspiring. She's probably one of the best students, residents and physicians I've ever worked with. She truly cares about the patient, about the community, about the learners, and always puts everybody else first."
Brenham's teaching tends to take place not in a classroom or lecture hall, but one-on-one. It was the same type of interaction she observed during her childhood when her father guided residents as a member of SIU's faculty, before he joined Springfield Clinic.
Brenham recalled overhearing her father when a resident telephoned him after the loss of one of the resident's patients. Brewer helped the resident deal with the grief.
"I remember that being a big influence on me," Brenham said.
She added, however, that neither her father nor her mother, nurse practitioner Sandra Hudgins Brewer, pushed her to go into medicine, and she didn't know she would go into teaching until later.
Twice in her career — while a medical student then after finishing her SIU residency and treating patients as an SIU faculty member — Brenham received a "humanism in medicine" award voted on by SIU medical students for her various efforts to serve patients.
Brenham is a busy, high-energy person who exercises regularly, mostly in the early morning hours. She is married to Andrew Brenham, a building contractor, and the mother of three girls with a fourth daughter due to be born in March. Her husband and the group practice at the center help her make time for her daughters' extracurricular activities, she said.
In addition to supervising residents and occasionally lecturing to medical students, she sees her own patients three half-days a week and takes time to do medical mission trips to foreign countries with her parents.
The training of residents, Brenham said, involves guiding highly educated professionals without becoming heavy-handed.
"They have completed four years of undergrad and four years of medical school," she said. "Residency is an apprenticeship. They're seeing patients in the hospital, in clinic, but everything they do is supervised by us."
Family medicine residencies last three years. Brenham will talk with first-year residents after they see each patient, then see the patient herself. She will talk with second- and third-year residents about all of their patient visits, but not necessarily when patients are in the office, and she doesn't examine these doctors' patients unless the residents request.
Brenham will talk with residents to explore their thought processes on prescriptions and diagnoses. She finds that most residents naturally become better and more independent as time goes on.
"By the end of the third year, they come back and have their own way to practice," she said. "I learn things from them."
There are 30 family medicine residents at any one time working in Springfield — 10 in each of the three experience levels. On rare occasions, Brenham has had to take part in decisions to dismiss residents from the program for professionalism and knowledge deficits.
Clinical knowledge is just one of the qualities the program tries to nurture. Just as important, Brenham said, are empathy, team communication and "bedside manner."
"If you don't have a good bedside manner and patients don't follow what you recommend, you can be the smartest person and know what to do, and it's not going to make any difference for your patient," she said.
When teaching residents, she added: "You have to be respectful for the fact that they have a say in what they want to learn. We always talk about giving feedback that is encouraging, yet still giving some feedback so they can self-acknowledge where they need to make changes."
Teaching residents gives her satisfaction, Brenham said.
"I love seeing the progression from when they first come, and they're learning and they're scared . and really learning to develop relationships with patients and knowing their patients," she said.
Brenham doesn't see as many patients as she used to but delivers 60 to 70 babies a year, and she is part of the team at the Sangamon County Child Advocacy Center.
She is on call when St. John's Hospital and Memorial Medical Center need her to conduct exams of children suspected of being sexually abused. She counsels the patients and families involved and provides expert testimony during trials.
Those sad cases don't seem to affect her overall positive attitude. When asked whether her optimism ever wanes, Brenham admitted to not enjoying all the time she must spend on paperwork, now done electronically, to document her care of patients, though she added that she knows this task, known as charting, is important for high-quality care.
Albers said she isn't surprised that Brenham's work has attracted awards.
"I think her whole purpose on Earth is to help the person in front of her," Albers said, "whether it be a student or a resident or a patient, whether it be someone through the Child Advocacy program or someone in Haiti or Nigeria or the multiple places she's gone for global missions. She walks the walk and doesn't just talk the talk. She's a role model for all of these students and residents."
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, http://bit.ly/1c72u6a
Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com