On Call: Catching Up with Three Neurologists
What have graduates of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health been up to lately? Three medical school alumni who are neurologists share their stories.
Laura Buyan Dent, MD, PhD ’98
Neurology is an exciting specialty in which knowledge is expanding and advancing at an amazing rate. New treatment options are becoming available, and many neurologic conditions are now seen as chronic illnesses rather than life-threatening conditions. I think, in the near future, we will start to see some cures. There is never a dull moment.
I direct the Movement Disorders Program in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) Department of Neurology. I spend most of my time seeing patients in an outpatient clinical setting and some time attending on the inpatient general neurology ward and covering consults. Most of my patients have a neurodegenerative disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, tremors and other abnormal or unusual movement difficulties. Unfortunately, they often have progressively disabling conditions.
I have the privilege of seeing a lot of courageous people who deal with their problems in a variety of ways. Each patient teaches me something valuable - this is one of the rewarding aspects of my career.
My interest in neuroscience spans a long time. Prior to attending medical school, I worked as a physical therapist and conducted basic neuroscience research. When I started medical school, I thought I wanted to be a neurologist but considered other specialties during my third-year rotations, probably as a means to test my decision. I did my neurology residency at UW Hospital and Clinics, then a year of fellowship in movement disorders at Boston University.
I chose neurology because I find the brain and its function or malfunction fascinating, and I enjoy working with people. Although we don’t yet have cures for the disorders I see, I am able to be a resource and provide supportive care. I am optimistic that current research endeavors are leading us to better treatments and potential cures.
Ross L. Levine, MD ’78
I was drawn to neurology because it allows me to piece together the puzzle of the nervous system. To do so, I combine each patient’s neurologic history with a detailed and focused neurologic examination using tailored neuroimaging modalities.
I am able to offer succinct and precise neurologic diagnoses, specific treatments, restorative care paradigms and disease- and condition-specific counseling.
Currently, I use this expertise to serve as a neurologic consultant for adult patients who have a broad spectrum of diseases and disorders - especially those with various aspects of stroke and cerebrovascular disease.
I work with each patient’s primary care provider to implement individual treatment plans. Whenever feasible, I avoid rushing through evaluations. Rather, I hope to devote as much time as necessary to provide the best possible care.
After completing medical school and my neurology residency at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, I was appointed to a tenure-track position on the UW faculty. There, I helped establish one of the nation’s first comprehensive stroke centers and actively participated in research and teaching programs centered on stroke, cerebrovascular diseases and neuroimaging.
Having retired from the UW faculty in 2010, I accepted a position as the medical director for vascular neurology at the Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Florida. As of September 2012, I am the section chief of neurology for the Meriter Medical Group and the medical director for the Neurohospitalist Program and Stroke Program at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Most memorable are the hundreds of acute stroke alerts with which I have assisted, especially for stroke victims who had their neurological deficits minimized by our rapid and succinct stroke team-related care. I also fondly remember the countless number of trainees for whom I hope I have reduced their fears about the nervous system and increased their confidence to perform meaningful neurological examinations.
Louis J. Ptacek Jr., MD ’86
I am a professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. I completed my residency at the University of Utah in 1990. I am an active member of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association, and I recently was elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Science.
The brain remains the most wonderful and spectacular organ, allowing us to be creative, to dream and to love! It’s also the least understood organ system.
My mentors played a huge role in my wanting to be a neurologist. My father was a wonderful pediatric neurologist who I really admired. Dr. Henry Schutta, the chair of neurology when I was a student, was very inspiring. As a student, I also worked with other great folks, including Drs. Ray Chun and Tom Satula.
Currently, I see only research subjects who have genetic disorders that we are studying in my laboratory. These include individuals with episodic disorders (periodic paralyses, paroxysmal dyskinesias, migraine and epilepsy) and circadian and sleep phenotypes, including familial advanced sleep phase (morning larks), familial delayed sleep phase (night owls) and natural short sleepers.
I recall a particularly memorable case from the mid-1990s, when we saw a woman who complained of waking up spontaneously at 2 to 4 o’clock in the morning. This was a lifelong trait and was true of many of her relatives. Many of them didn’t find it a problem, or even felt virtuous for getting up early and being ‘the early bird that gets the worm.’ She also became very tired before dinner and struggled to stay awake until 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening.
Neurology is a great specialty. There is so much that we still need to learn. For those who are interested in research, the brain remains the final frontier!
This article appears in the summer 2013 issue of Quarterly.
Date Published: 09/05/2013