Walter Kernan, MD, is a primary care physician for adults. As a general internist, he sees patients who have a wide range of illnesses and conditions, including asthma, emphysema, hypertension, anxiety, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. “I try to advocate for all of my patients who have any kind of physical or psychiatric symptom,” Dr. Kernan says. “They may have high blood pressure or just a mysterious shoulder pain.”
“The opportunity to blend science with the humanistic aspect of medicine attracted me to the profession,” Dr. Kernan says. “I appreciate working in a field that requires a broad knowledge about a lot of different conditions.”
During his medical training, Dr. Kernan developed a particular interest in strokes. “I noticed that patients at risk of their first stroke or who had already suffered from one received highly variable care. This meant that common risk factors, like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, poor nutrition, and smoking were treated differently by different doctors.” At the time, physicians were still exploring the science behind stroke to better understand risk factors, Dr. Kernan says. “A high variability among treatment approaches often indicates opportunities for quality improvement,” he says.
Throughout his career, Dr. Kernan has helped lead several clinical trials comparing different stroke treatments. More recently, he has explored the possibility that underlying metabolic diseases—such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, or obesity—in some patients could play an important role in preventing future strokes. “Previous research has shown, for example, that treating pre-diabetes can have a profound impact on future heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Kernan says.
No matter which condition Dr. Kernan addresses, he listens to any lingering fears a patient may have. “Being ill is a scary experience,” he says. “It threatens your personhood, confidence, and hold on all that you value. So, I build my care around a patient’s values, preferences, and hopes for the future.”
“We need to start early in life to help patients lead healthy lives,” Dr. Kernan says. “The opportunities to do this will flourish in the next few years and primary care will be at the forefront of those efforts.”
Years In Practice