Dr. Felicia Chow is a neurologist and neuro-infectious diseases clinician-researcher with an interest in the intersection of neurology, infectious diseases and global health. She has an active research program focused on the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and treatment of neurological complications of infections, including HIV and tuberculosis, with the goal of improving outcomes of patients with neuro-infectious diseases globally. She is currently a board member of the World Neurology Foundation.
Q: What was the catalyst for you to enter a career that involves global neurology?
If anyone knows the Enneagram personality types, I’m a total Type 1, no question. Which means even as a kid, I was a rule-follower who liked things to be orderly, fair, and equitable. As I became more interested in medicine and then in neurology and infectious diseases, this mindset extended to equitable access to high-quality health care, which was a natural lead-in to global health. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time in Peru with Dr. Bob Gilman’s group as a first-year medical student and somehow had the even better fortune to get involved from start to finish in a project with Dr. David Moore looking at the tolerability of a novel way to collect gastric samples to diagnosis TB in young children. A summer spent coaxing young children to swallow capsules embedded in jello, and I was hooked!
After that experience, I immediately started scheming ways to get back in-country. I returned to Peru for a year as a Fogarty fellow with Joe Zunt, Silvia Montano, and Hugo Garcia after my 3rd year of medical school and became obsessed with cysticercosis, which remains to this day one of my favorite CNS infections. These two experiences in Peru were just the start, with each experience I have had as a student and then as a resident, fellow, and now as faculty—from learning about HIV-related cognitive dysfunction in Kenya and HIV-associated stroke in China to TB meningitis in Uganda—solidifying and reaffirming my commitment to global neurology. It’s such a cliché to say but so true: working directly with patients and families and learning their life stories is a privilege and joy, as is getting to know so many incredibly kind and dedicated research and clinical staff. And I love how much of global neurology is about problem solving and thinking way outside the box—I mean it all started with thinking up ways to get kids to swallow a string in jello! Each day brings something new, and I’m just extraordinarily grateful for every moment of it.
"[W]orking directly with patients and families and learning their life stories is a privilege and joy, as is getting to know so many incredibly kind and dedicated research and clinical staff."
Q: As faculty, how important do you see the role of mentorship in growing the field of global neurology in the near and far future?
So incredibly important! In fact, I would go so far as to say it may be the critical key to success in the field and to growing the field. This is true about mentorship in most fields but especially in a burgeoning field like global neurology in which half of the challenge for trainees is finding your way and figuring out how to get involved, where to find partners, and where your efforts will be most helpful and not harmful.
I have had and still have some of the most amazing and inspiring mentors, without whom my path to a career in global neurology and neuro-infectious diseases would have ended a long time ago. When I think about their generosity, it blows me away. I remember thinking as a trainee about how I could shape my career to be like that of my mentors. And now, almost two decades later, I still want to be like them when I grow up! I am incredibly appreciative of every person who has taken the time to teach me so patiently, and to mentor and advocate for me, including and especially my local in-country mentors and collaborators who have always welcomed me and made me feel at home—without them, I would have no global neurology career to speak of. So, there is very much this sense of wanting to pay it forward with the next generation of global neurologists, both those based in the U.S. as well as those from our partner sites.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from your past global health experiences?
It’s hard to pick just a few. The triumph we felt when our youngest participant, a 3-year-old, successfully swallowed the string capsule during my first research experience. A picture that a little boy with ADEM who I met on rounds in Lima drew for me of the hot dog with mayonnaise that he blamed for getting sick. Conducting study visits in makeshift tents set up for Deanna’s HIV study in Kenya when she was a medical student. Eating noodles in the cafeteria with some of the doctors in Beijing, China, and trying to imagine what it would be like to share a dorm room with 6 people into my 30s. And the many other times when something I thought I knew or a preconceived notion that I didn’t realize I had was completely turned upside down by a single conversation with someone on the other side of the world.
Learn more about Dr. Chow's research at: https://chowlab.ucsf.edu