Fiifi Duodu is currently a final-year resident in neurology at the Department of Medicine of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. He completed medical school at the University of Ghana and did two years of house-job training, where he then practiced as a general doctor for two years at the National Stroke Unit. Dr. Duodu intends to subspecialize in neuroimmunology, and his research interests are in stroke, epilepsy and neuroimmunology.
Q: Who/what inspired you to choose the field of neurology?
My interest in neurology started with neurophysiology and neuroanatomy in the first year of medical school. This intensified during my clinical rotation in medicine, where I particularly enjoyed ward rounds and tutorials in neurology. In my country Ghana, after our mandated house-manship training in all the major areas of medicine, it is required that you practice as a general doctor (often referred to as a medical officer) for two years before starting residency in your chosen field. I opted to be in the stroke unit of the teaching hospital. During that period, I had the opportunity to manage various forms of stroke. It was also a great opportunity to work with the three neurologists in the southern sector of Ghana who are extremely knowledgeable and skillful. I am, however, profoundly grateful to Dr. Akpalu and Dr. Adjei for all the mentorship and opportunities. My interest in studying neurology peaked during that period and I have never looked back. I subsequently entered residency training with the aim of becoming a neurologist and have since looked for every opportunity to gain knowledge in the field of neurology.
Q: What are your research interests and how have you pursued them during your training?
It is no surprise that with my many years of working in the stroke unit, I have developed a keen interest in stroke and have identified many gaps in the research on stroke in my country and sub-Saharan Africa. To bridge the knowledge gap, I have been involved in research in the area of stroke and my dissertation for my fellowship exam was in this area. During my one-month training with the neurology team in Zambia, I had the chance to review and manage neurological cases under the guidance of experienced neurologists who are well-known in their specific areas. The scope and severity of the diseases were astounding, and I had the opportunity to see a couple of immunological diseases affecting the central nervous system. It was a wonderful experience working with Prof. Deanna Saylor, who is an incredible tutor. Under her mentorship, I developed an interest in research in the area of neuroimmunology.
Q: As a current trainee, how do you envision the field of global neurology in the next 10 years?
Global neurology aims to enhance the care of patients with neurological diseases through the training of doctors with an interest in the field, especially in under-resourced countries. The number of specialists and subspecialists in all areas of medicine is limited in low- and middle-income countries. Local medical training colleges are aware of this and are doing their best to bridge the gap between the number of patients who need specialized neurological care and available personnel. With global neurology, this is going to happen at a faster pace. In ten years, through global neurology efforts, I see better collaboration between regional, national and international neurological associations to increase the number of doctors with advanced knowledge in the field of neurology, which will ultimately improve patient care. Additionally, these doctors will conduct research that will provide better insight into neurological diseases and provide data on how the characteristics of the diseases in the subregion vary from available data.
Q: How did you seek out mentorship? What advice would you give other trainees regarding how to choose a mentor?
I have both local and international mentors and acquired them by being at the right place at the right time. When I was practicing as a general doctor at the stroke unit, I worked closely with the neurology team, which only had three neurologists. At that time, the team was looking to expand the personnel and were very interested in training and mentoring doctors to become a neurologist. All three of them have been resourceful mentors at various points in my career.
The saying that there is a silver lining in every cloud proved true for me during the COVID pandemic. Clinical meetings in most training institutions were moved online. Accordingly, the Zambia neurology program education sessions organized by Prof. Saylor were done via Zoom. To increase the number of African neurology trainees who could benefit from these sessions, they invited as many as they could who could join the meetings. There was also an open invitation to present cases from different countries and I took the opportunity to discuss the interesting cases I had managed. This is how I met Prof. Saylor who became interested in teaching and mentoring me. She invited me to Zambia, and I learnt a lot working with her.
The advice I will give young trainees seeking out mentors is to understand what a mentor is and be clear about their goals. They should start by looking for mentors in their institutions. They should ask their colleagues about consultants working in research areas they might be interested in. Then they should use those same strategies to find mentors in other institutions and then internationally.
I see better collaboration between regional, national and international neurological associations to increase the number of doctors with advanced knowledge in the field of neurology, which will ultimately improve patient care.