All in the Family
The Nowicki Family Passes the Pursuit of Medicine from One Generation to the Next
Dr. Bogdan Nowicki, MD, Ph.D., is the Medical Director of STAR Nowicki Clinic where he focuses on treating opioid addiction. Prior to that he practiced as a Board-Certified Ob/Gyn specialist for 30 years who finished his residency as chief resident at Vanderbilt in 2007. He received his medical degree from Medical University of Gdansk, Poland.
Dr. Stella Nowicki, MD, DDS, is the President and Founder of The Nowicki Institute for Women’s Health. Stella has a doctoral degree at Medical School, Gdansk University, Poland, three post-doctoral fellowships in Microbiology and Immunology at Helsinki University, Finland, and Baylor College of Medicine. She has held multiple positions in research facilities across the country and honorary positions in multiple professional medical associations.
Joanna Nowicki is the Clinical Manager of STAR Nowicki Clinic and is a licensed Therapist focusing on the opioid crisis.
Dr. Alex Nowicki, MD started in medical school at Warsaw Medical University and then completed his medical degree at Washington University of Health and Science. He plans to focus on surgery in Otolaryngology. Alex is heavily involved in research having just published his very first book chapter in Otolaryngology. He is currently a first-year surgery resident at Rutgers Medical School in NJ.
Dr. Natalie Nowicki, MD followed in her brother’s footsteps and also went to medical school at Warsaw Medical University and then completed her medical degree at Washington University of Health and Science. She plans to focus on surgery in Ob/Gyn. Natalie recently won the prestigious Trainee Scholar award and Scholarship for her research from the Infectious Disease Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology.
An interview with Bogdan & Stella Nowicki:
Where did you get your interest in medicine?
Bogdan's father is 102 years old this year and served as a MD with a focus on Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine in Poland for 50 years. He set a great example of being not only a doctor but having a balanced life and loving what he did. Stella was not interested in medicine until she met Bogdan, she wanted to follow her dreams on research of space. Bogdan shared his passion for medicine with Stella and she started pursuing it and it grew into her passion as well.
Where are you originally from and how did you find your way to Middle Tennessee?
We came together with our daughter Joanna from Gdansk, Poland, in October 1985 to Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, for a one-year Postdoctoral Fellowship. We traveled 10 days via the historical boat “Batory” from Roterdam, Holland, to Montreal, Canada. We lived in south Texas until 2005. In August 2005, Stella began a new career at Meharry Medical College, where she was invited to be the Scientific Director of the brand-new Center for Women’s Health Research. It was one of the first in the world to focus on health disparities amongst women of different races.
How did you pursue the American dream?
In the early 1980s, Poland went through major political changes and with Marshall Law in place, it was almost impossible to leave the country. Luckily, in 1983, Bogdan was awarded a research scholarship from Finland and then in 1985, we came to Houston as a research fellow at Baylor College of Medicine. Together, with Stella and 8-year-old Joanna, we emigrated to the USA in 1985. This is how our American dream really started. With two suitcases per person, mom, father and child began their American adventure. All three of us had to adjust to a new language, social structure, work environment, school, and a tiny income of a fellow. Soon joined by Stella’s mom, Zofia, we both began climbing the professional ladder from fellowships to junior faculty, and the professor level, competing for millions of dollars of NIH research grants, directorships of large research units, while at the same time nurturing Joanna and our two first American-born children, Natalie and Alexander. Born in a communist country with a $10 monthly income where we experienced a shortage of everything, we suddenly transferred to the fertile grounds of US where we worked hard and successfully built our American home, family, and comfortable lifestyle depicting the American dream.
Tell us about your scientific pursuits in medicine-
We have authored over 200 scientific publications in top medical journals, and each have more than 30 years of research experience in microbiology, endocrinology and immunology. Both of us were tenured professors at Meharry Medical College until January 2016, when we decided to pursue our own non-profit and research institute.
How are you still involved in medicine in Poland?
Dr. Bogdan Nowicki together with Dr. M. Siemionow, a surgeon who performed the first in the world human face transplant organized X Congress of Medical Polonia, gathering graduates of Polish medical schools who work all over the world. Bogdan Nowicki together with Dr Kornelia Krol and Dr Ewa Radwanska organized sessions on advances in technology in Ob/Gyn.
In addition Bogdan and Stella are working with an interdisciplinary group from Gdansk Medical University on a recently awarded grant from The Polish Academy of Science to investigate markers of mortality among patients with septicemia, a life-threatening blood infection in the USA only, affecting 500,000 patients, annually.
Do you have any other hobbies or interest besides medicine?
The arts are very important to us. In 2015 Stella published “Confidence,” a book of poetry that was awarded “The Gold Seal of Literary Excellence in 2016.
All of us paint and sketch. Bogdan has painted nearly 100 oil paintings. Natalie is an opera-trained singer and we play instruments including the piano, guitar, violin, cello, trumpet, drums and ukulele. We also love to travel all over the United States and Europe. Most recently in 2017, we all visited Poland to celebrate Bogdan’s parents’ Zofia and Aleksander’s 90th and 100th birthdays.
How did you two meet?
Just a few months after graduating from medical school, 25-year-old Bogdan planned his dream sailing trip with his best friends. Unfortunately, or fortunately as it turned out, an unforeseen storm ruined their plans. Returning home from the local port, he found his father, mother and sister standing in the doorway ready to leave on a trip of their own. Surprised, he asked where they were going. It turns out that his family was going to visit Bogdan’s sister’s 17-year-old friend Stella, and her family. There, he would meet his future wife. That evening, after a long train ride to Stella’s hometown, Stella and Bogdan’s sister planned on going out on the town, when all of a sudden Bogdan found himself volunteered by his mother to chaperone. Reluctantly he agreed, and poor Stella’s night would be tainted by this responsible, older man hovering over her shoulder all evening. That night, Bogdan asked Stella to dance. After one song, Stella says she knew. "We had fallen in love at first dance. Three months later, we married on Christmas Day in a beautiful palace covered with white snow in the presence of 130 friends and family members. 44 years later we are still partners in this dance we call life."
How do you balance work and play?
We work to live, not the other way around. However, we also love our work, and fewer statements are truer than “if you love what you do, then you’ll never work a day in your life." We like to focus on family and put away the electronics. Just enjoying one another’s company.
What advice would you give to a young physician getting started?
The same advice I offer to my children... Do what you are passionate about. Do not look at how hard it is, or how many years it will take but find something that is close to your heart and build it up. That is your investment. Do what you love and it doesn't feel like work. Also, if you want to be a good doctor you need to first be a good person.
Tell us about your involvement in the recovery community-
In August 2015, The Nowicki Institute for Women’s Health Research (NowIforHeR) was established. In July 2018 we opened Star Nowicki Clinic [Standing Together Against Relapse (STAR)] to help patients in their journey to recovery from opioid addiction. The institute supports and promotes collaborations and partnerships in translational research, to make global changes in women’s health and to reduce health disparities.
How did you become interested in this field?
While doing research work, Bogdan, with the support of Stella and the family, took the next challenging step of transitioning through a demanding second medical residency in OB/GYN and successfully become a certified OB/GYN. While continuing academic medicine, research, training students, residents, and delivering pregnant mothers, he expanded his interest into helping pregnant mothers with opioid addiction. This experience opened a new chapter in our lives.
Afterward, Stella and Joanna both attained the specialized credentialing and became substance abuse therapists. The family developed a new specialized clinic helping addicted patients regain their lives through a combination of substance abuse therapy with co-occurring disorders and medically assisted opiate treatment. We not only help pregnant mothers, but also adults, and veterans who often suffer the aftermath of opiate addiction following multiple war injuries, trauma, vehicular injuries or surgery. We hope that with the support of all our friends we can make a difference and give a great example to future generations of Americans searching for their American dream.
Tell us about Joanna’s role at your family clinic-
Joanna is a therapist specializing in substance abuse therapy with a concentration in opiate dependency and co-occurring disorders, as well as the clinic manager at the Star Nowicki Clinic. She possesses an ATTC certification in Substance Use Disorders, as well as Substance Use Disorders in Special Populations. She has over eight years of case management experience in conjunction with CASA of Williamson County implementing behavioral modification strategies and therapy with families in jeopardy of losing custody of their children due to a history of substance misuse and addiction. She utilized her academic background, both undergraduate and graduate, in business administration and marketing, interior design, and three completed years of a Ph.D. in psychology with her highly positive disposition to embrace individual diversity, while always striving to help individuals in need. Her main focus is helping those in need by enabling each individual to realize the strength and beauty that lies within them.
What is your mission statement for your clinic?
We are passionate about helping those who are suffering from chronic disease and have turned to opioids and pain medications. We function as a team (Bogdan, Stella & Joanna) at the clinic here to do everything we can to prevent relapse for our patients. Our daughter Natalie came up with the acrostic, STAR, for our clinic that stands for Standing Together Against Relapse. This functions as our driving purpose as we seek to help others find hope and fulfillment in life.