Making people better | Dr. Liverett

Career / November 15, 2016

Interview conducted by Lindsey Wells

Dr. Kathy Liverett is the first full-time Infectious Disease specialty physician in Hot Springs, and the only one between Little Rock and Texarkana. Liverett moved to Hot Springs to establish her practice at National Park Medical Center in 2013. She completed four years of residency in internal medicine and pediatrics and four years of fellowship in infectious diseases and is quadruple board certified, enabling her to treat both adults and children.

Why did you choose to specialize in Infectious Diseases?

Kathy Liverett: For many reasons. For one thing, usually with infectious diseases, they are things that you can make better — most infections you can cure and make people better. That’s not always the case but so many medical illnesses are just chronic management kinds of things. But with infectious diseases you can actually get people better and get them back on their feet. And it’s usually the most interesting cases in the hospital. The outbreaks, and the rarely seen and the epidemics, which are not great to have, but you need someone there to help take care of them and guide treatment.

What interests you most about your specialty?

KL: There’s such a variety between viruses and bacteria and all the different diseases that one little bacteria can cause. I mean, it can affect anything from your brain to your foot and you have to know a lot about all the other diseases as well and how they figure into the infections. So, I never have to worry about getting bored. It’s frequently challenging and always interesting.

I’m also involved with infection control; I’m involved with antimicrobial stewardship so I’ll touch base with a lot of the folks that are involved with that, with pharmacy and our infection practitioner, or our infection preventionist, and see what all is going on there, if there’s anything I need to work on from that standpoint. Quite a bit of variety.

I try to stay up-to-date with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Usually the health department is our first contact before we contact the CDC, so things like Zika, we’ll talk with our folks at the health department first and then if they need to get the CDC involved, they will; they’ll kind of be the liaison there. I’ve got good people at the health department too that I can call on interesting cases.

What do you like most and least about your specialty?

KL: As I said, the things I like the most are when you can get people better, when you can make them better. And the variety. What I like least is that it can be very emotionally and physically challenging, because you don’t win all the battles, you can’t heal everybody — I’m not endowed with those HER CAREERpowers, for sure. That’s the hard part.

What advancements do you hope to see made in medicine in the future, especially in Infectious Diseases?

KL: There’s so many. I’d love to see a cure for HIV. I would love to see the challenges with medication pricing and availability be dealt with so that my people who need medications can get them and don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to be able to pay for meds or pay their bills. I would
love to see more antibiotics developed. The increasing resistance that we’re seeing in bacteria, I’d like to see that decrease. There are so many things.

Do you have any advice for students thinking about going to medical school?

KL: I would advise them to talk with the doctors in the fields that they are interested in and see what’s really involved because it does involve quite a commitment. You have to be committed, not only to get through the training but once you are out in practice, as I said, it’s emotionally and physically draining and trying to find balance is a hard thing. You have to be very committed, so I would say make sure you know what you’re getting into. It’s a great field, it’s uniquely rewarding, but you need to know what you’re getting into first.

What are your nonmedical interests?

KL: I do read a lot about infectious diseases when I’m not here. I love to be outdoors, I love hiking, kayaking, playing with my dog and cats, spending time with my family, going back to my family’s farm. I like drawing, painting, just a lot of different things. Working out when I have time.

What advice would you give as we go into flu season?

KL: Prevention is key. Prevent as much as you can. Flu shots are not 100 percent effective but if I’m going into battle, I’d rather have a Kevlar vest than nothing at all. Prevention is key; get your flu shots. I think there have been a few cases seen across the nation — it varies every year exactly when the worst timing is. When we have a pandemic, a new strain, sometimes it’s all year long, as it was with the swine flu. Usually October to around March or April is the prime time for it.

What are the most common diseases that you deal with?

KL: Staph, staph skin infections, HIV — I see a lot of folks with HIV. I deal with whatever comes up. Pneumonias, those kinds of things over in the hospitals, urinary tract infections, kind of the garden variety things. Those are the most common.

We’re actually about to come up on Get Smart Week for antibiotic therapy which starts in a couple of weeks. That that is a CDC-sponsored weeklong event, where it encourages people to be judicious with antibiotic usage because if we use them inappropriately, as in for viruses which they are not effective for, then the more we use them, the more we lose them. You have increase in resistance in the bacteria that are there, so judicious usage of antibiotics is very important to try to slow that down because we are seeing very serious issues with resistance all across the country. That is something that I’m very involved in, very passionate about, to try to make sure that we have the right medication, right dose, the right duration, when it’s needed, and try not to use them when they’re not needed.

Photography by Mara Kuhn

Lindsey Wells

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November 15, 2016