Tiana Kieso – MCH Graduate

Below is a story written about Tiana Kieso, one of MCH graduates.

A Daily Dose of Dedication

Confucius once said, “Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” It is this sort of passion that drives Tiana Kieso who worked as a medical doctor in Iraq for almost 15 years before moving to Chicago with her family in 1993 to start a career in public health.

In the years after graduating from medical school in Iraq, Dr. Kieso joined Kumait Health Center in Omara, a rural area in southern Iraq. As the first female physician on staff, she partnered with a midwife in 1982 to open the center’s first delivery room.

“Women would not go to a hospital to deliver their babies, because the doctors were all men,” she said. “The center had all the delivery equipment in a special room, but they couldn’t use it until I started.”

Kieso’s pioneering achievements didn’t come to an end when she moved to the U.S and stopped practicing medicine. After raising three children, she went on to earn a Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health in 2004 and also gained certification as an asthma and nutrition educator, the latter from the UIC Neighborhoods Initiative Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion.

Today, Kieso works as a health education coordinator for the Near North Health Service Corporation, a nonprofit federally qualified health center that provides health care and social services to uninsured residents of Cabrini Green, Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park and other Near North side and Uptown communities. Here, Kieso teaches patients about their illnesses while they wait to see their doctors, a concept she introduced to the health center when she joined the team in the summer of 2007.

“This model was developed in a third-world country,” Kieso said. “In Iraq, women used to go to health clinics for follow-up exams for their pregnancies and for their childrens’ immunizations. As a physician, I saw 60 to 90 patients a day back then. And in the waiting area, there was a health educator who trained the women with the basic messages they needed to know about immunization, breast feeding and nutrition.”

Her waiting room conversations today have evolved since her days at the health center in Iraq, and they draw on a wide variety of medical training and life experiences. Kieso teaches patients how to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleeping problems and other chronic illnesses.

“Patients visit a doctor for 15 minutes only,” she said. “How much can the doctor tell them?”

Though the model is gaining momentum in the U.S., Kieso admits it comes with challenges. “It’s the same concept but not as easy as it was in Iraq. Within the first two to three months, I’ve seen about 600 patients, but we still need to prove our point here, ask for funding, and this all takes time.”

The Near North centers offer many programs including nutrition services, social services, HIV education, case management, Healthy Start/Healthy Families programs and even cooking classes. Kieso has also begun group classes on stress management and meditation.

“Managing an illness involves a multidisciplinary approach, and repetition will help them adapt to healthy behavior,” she said. “I am trying to link all the good services here. I want the diabetes patients to use our cooking classes and our social workers and our therapy.”

While Kieso has started collecting data to support her public health education model, her commitment toward helping people extends not just to her patients. As a way to give back to her alma mater and provide a valuable experience to future public health leaders, she hires UIC SPH students as interns.

“I believe it’s important to give back,” she said. “Chronic diseases cannot be treated by one person. It has to be a team. I want more students. This is such a good experience for public health students. I want them to learn the real life experiences, because what you read and what you do at school are not the same as what you learn here [at the center].”

Coming from a family of doctors and health practitioners, Kieso has much to offer her students, her patients and her own children, all of whom are following in her footsteps and pursuing health-related careers.

There is no shortage of need in Chicago for Kieso’s intervention skills, and it is quality of life improvements that helps her measure her success with the medically indigent patients she serves.

“Patients have seen decreases in their pain. At least now they learn how to deal with their lifestyle. They’re learning. The patients are connecting with us. That means they’re changing. When I think about what I’m doing for these patients, that gives me hope and self-confidence that maybe this will work,” she said.

>> by Tina M. Daniel