STEAM at Work: Dr. Barbara Nye

DA dance grad now prescribes dance as a headache neurologist

barbara nye at work“A lot of dancers end up in the medical field,” says Barbara Nye. Is it all the body work? “Yes,” Nye says, adding that most dancers go into physical therapy since it is most closely related to the body movement and fitness of dance.
Nye knew she wanted to be a doctor from the age of seven, when her sister was treated for cancer. Experiencing that, watching and learning from the doctors taking care of her sister, resonated with her in a permanent way.
She also knew she loved to dance, and later found herself at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts majoring in dance. Nye (nee Chalkley) graduated from DA with the class of 2001.
She then went on to get her bachelor’s degree at UNF, followed by pre-med at USF School of Medicine in Tampa. It was during her med school internship that she discovered the specialty of neurology. “I love that it is a logical field. I diagnosed my first stroke during my internship and … it all made sense.” Once she completed a two-month rotation at their headache center, her path was clear – headache neurology.
She received a headache scholarship and began a neurology residency at the Headache Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where she is now the co-director after just five years.
“OK, I have a patient in the scanner, so we have a bit of time,” Nye says light-heartedly, and then as if ready for the question, offers that she doesn’t suffer from headaches herself, but likes the field for several reasons: “I can establish longterm relationships with my patients; they’re treatable, not dying; I can say ‘we can do something about that.’”
She calls it a multi-faceted specialty where one can make their own ground rules. DA Principal Dr. Jackie Cornelius says that when talking with arts students who are now pursuing their careers (just twenty to thirty percent of which are arts careers), “What tends to bubble to the top of every conversation are the themes of discipline and confidence . . . the belief that one can do whatever they want to do.”
da steam- nye danceArts students learn to ask, “How can I do something differently?” Cornelius says. “They learn how to take risks and explore, because that is part of learning any art form.”
Nye can’t dance herself anymore, after fracturing her back during her senior year of high school, but enjoys attending dance performances. When Alvin Ailey comes to town, she is always there.
She says dance often creates a common ground with many of her patients, since teenage and young adult females comprise the largest population of headache sufferers and many females this age dance.
Dance even becomes part of the prescribed therapy in many cases. “They’re coping with pain, but it’s not always medication that helps,” says Nye. “I see alternative therapies work, and these include breathing and biomechanic exercises, including dance.” Nye explains that exercise like dancing increases endorphins, which in turn increase one’s ability to tolerate pain.

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