From a young age, the human body and how it functions has fascinated alumnus Cliff Kissling.
So, when it came time for the Wichita native to attend college, he chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at Newman University.
As a student, he was also an athlete on the men’s cross country team, active in Campus Ministry, part of the Newman University Medical Professionals Club and a Cardinal Newman scholar. In addition, he and his wife created the Board Games Club, which won the Club of the Year Award in 2014.
After graduating in 2014, Kissling was accepted into the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. He finished his studies in 2018 and then did a preliminary year in internal medicine before moving with his wife and kids to Columbia, Missouri, in 2019, where he’s completing his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).
“Upon completion of my residency in June, I will take boards to be licensed as a physiatrist,” Kissling said. “PM&R is a field in medicine just like family medicine or orthopedic surgery, but few people in Wichita have ever heard of it. Your family medicine doctor may have never even heard of it.”
A rewarding career in physical medicine and rehabilitation
He explained that PM&R is a broad field of inpatient and outpatient medicine that treats nonoperative musculoskeletal conditions, neurologic conditions like strokes and brain injuries, amputees and even children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or spinal muscular atrophy.
“As a physiatrist, my goal is to optimize the function of all my patients,” Kissling said. “On any given day, I could see a farmer with a shoulder injury or a young mom learning how to deal with a new spinal cord injury after a car accident. We provide education on their injuries, treatments such as medications or injections and any modalities that may help, as well as work closely with other specialties to ensure optimal care.”
For Kissling, the best part of the field of physiatry is the relationships he builds with his patients.
“We meet them where they are, no matter what they have been through, and help them figure out how they can do the things they want to in the future,” he said. “Their future function may not look the same, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be just as rewarding.”
He added, “Caring for someone through the most traumatic event of their life and then being able to get them home, even if it is in a wheelchair, is so rewarding.”
A positive outlook for the future
Once he completes his residency this summer, Kissling and his family will move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he will begin working at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital — a unique place in health care, according to Kissling, as it’s all about teamwork.
“Patients that go to [this facility] have typically experienced an acute event such as a stroke or car accident with multiple fractures,” he explained. “They receive three hours of therapy per day with the plan to discharge back home. I am the primary provider for them during this time, and I work very closely with the therapists to ensure patients are optimized medically so they can participate fully with therapy.”
Kissling eventually plans to start an outpatient practice with electromyograph and nerve conductions studies. He also hopes to develop a clinic for amputees.
Because physiatry is still a little-known area of medicine, Kissling said he’d like to spread more awareness about the field — including to Newman students.
“For anyone interested in medicine, PM&R is an amazing field,” he said. “It can be hard to get exposure to it in the Midwest, so I’m always happy to talk with students about it.”
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