Global Neurology Trainee Highlight: Dr. Dominique Mortel

Dr. Dominique Mortel is a current Global Neurology Fellow of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and is currently based full-time in Lusaka, Zambia. She completed her residency at the University of Arizona in Tucson and served as chief resident in her final year. Her global health journey began on the island of Dominica during her medical school training at Ross University where she volunteered to help at local clinics. She will complete a Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship at Brown University following her global health fellowship and hopes to apply these procedural skills when she practices as a general neurologist domestically and abroad. She enjoys writing for the Hopkins Biomedical Odyssey Blog and sharing her experience as a global health neurologist.
Q: At what point in your training did you realize you wanted to pursue global neurology?
Honestly speaking, during my third year of residency, I was very unsure about what career path to embark on after residency. I was passionate about neurology in general and couldn’t decide on whether or not I wanted to pursue a specific subspecialty. I was unaware a global health neurology fellowship existed. I would frequently visit the AAN website looking at resident and fellow opportunities and as fate would have it, one day while I was perusing the website, there was a headline promoting the Johns Hopkins Global Neurology Fellowship, the first of its kind. It immediately sparked excitement and intrigue within me. I promptly contacted Dr. Deanna Saylor so I could learn more about the fellowship before officially applying. I wanted to make sure I was the right fit for the position and the fellowship was the right fit for me. After meeting with Dr. Saylor virtually and learning more about what the fellowship entailed, my heart was set on applying. I had practiced global health during my two years in Dominica studying medicine at Ross University. I was part of student-led organizations that would frequently hold clinics in the local community. I greatly enjoyed the work we did, from increasing awareness about prevalent health conditions pertinent to the Dominican community to understanding how cultural beliefs impact medical care. It was also the perfect opportunity to correlate what I was learning academically to what it meant clinically. I felt the Global Neurology Fellowship would build upon my prior experience and help me grow as a clinician and researcher. It was a calling I could not ignore. Over the past several months, I know I made the right decision. The fellowship has strengthened my clinical skills and judgment and allowed me to grow in so many domains, professionally and personally.
Dr. Mortel consulting with her fellow trainee colleagues about a patient case at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Image courtesy: Dr. Dominique Mortel

Q: What traits do you think are pertinent to a career in global neurology?
I think there are several traits that are essential to a career in global neurology, outside of the usual traits I believe are inherent to medicine such as altruism and compassion. In global health, it’s important to be humble and open to learning. It’s best to be transparent and honest about what you don’t know because it creates more room for growth and learning. Plus, there is so much to learn from our colleagues who are accustomed to working in resource-limited settings, whether it’s about diseases endemic to the area or what medications are widely available. They are a wealth of information and they understand the ins and outs of how their health system works. It’s important to be patient, open-minded, and resourceful. More often than not, things do not go as planned in a hospital that has limited resources. We do not get imaging results in a timely manner and often patients cannot afford certain medications and therefore their treatment is delayed. It’s easy to let it frustrate you, but you just continue to do the best you can with what you have. I look at roadblocks now as opportunities for innovation rather than moments of defeat. Lastly, I think it’s crucial to be dedicated to education. Dr. Saylor has been a magnificent mentor to me and she has taught me that the most powerful impact you can make in global health is to share your knowledge with other physicians and trainees. If you teach others in a meticulous yet compassionate fashion, they will train those who follow in a similar manner. This way, more and more patients will benefit and thrive over time. Your legacy lives on through those you teach.
Group outing with the neurology team at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Image courtesy: Dr. Dominique Mortel

Q: How has your fellowship experience in Zambia framed your future goals in global neurology?
After my fellowship in Zambia, I will complete a Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship at Brown University to become skilled at reading EEGs and performing EMGs. Having these procedural skills is important to me as a general neurologist so that I can utilize these skills when I practice global health. I hope to ultimately work at an institution that can support my dreams of practicing global health several weeks a year. I hope to increase awareness of the importance of global neurology and mentor others to pursue this noble calling. There is a significant need for neurologists in low- and middle-income countries who can aid in reading EEGs and performing EMGs, so I’d like to also teach others how to perform these procedures. My fellowship has been the most memorable and life-changing experience of my medical career. It has certainly amplified my passion for global health. I love the work I do in Zambia – it’s given my life more meaning and purpose. At the end of every workday, I truly feel fulfilled and in love with my job.

Learn more about the Global Neurology Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/global-neurology/