Dr. Naluca Mimi Mwendaweli is currently in her final year of Adult Neurology residency at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. She completed her undergraduate medical training at the University of Zambia and did her internship at the Levy Mwanawasa Teaching Hospital. After residency, Dr. Mwendaweli hopes to pursue a fellowship in epileptology and give back to her community by getting involved in academic neurology. She currently serves as a member of the Epilepsy Consortium Advisory Board, representing Africa and also the current Young Epilepsy Section ILAE Africa representative.
Q: Who/ what inspired you to choose the field of neurology?
My interest in neuroscience started after my father had his third surgery for a brain tumor whilst doing my O levels. Watching him lose his speech and memory made me want to do something more for him. I made up my mind that I was going to be a neurosurgeon and help him. However, during my medical school training, I figured I could help more people as a neurologist. During my internship, I was sponsored by the European Academy of Neurology to attend a Regional Teaching course on Stroke and Paediatric Neurology in Khartoum Sudan, and I had the opportunity to interact with neurologists and neurology residents from within the African region. By the time I got back home, I had made up my mind that neurology was my path.
Q: What are your research interests and how have you pursued them during your training?
After spending time in the epilepsy clinic during my internship, I developed a keen interest in seizure disorders and epilepsy. Many of the patients were being stigmatized because of their diagnosis of epilepsy, which made it difficult for them to access proper care. It also didn’t help much that Zambia had very few neurologists, who were expatriates at that time, and were mostly based at one institution. Therefore, most of the patients were being reviewed by psychiatrists and clinical officers who were trained in psychiatry. This seemingly added to the stigma and assumption that epilepsy was a mental health disorder. This situation triggered something in me to do more for this special population and I have been involved in a lot of epilepsy advocacy since then, and attended and participated in a lot of epilepsy training workshops and conferences. Being a member of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) has also given me the opportunity to meet and interact with a lot of epileptologists across the globe. My dissertation is on epilepsy, and I hope to use my findings for further research and to improve patient care.
Q: As a current trainee, how do you envision the field of global neurology in the next ten years?
Low- and middle-income countries face a huge burden of neurological disorders with challenges ranging from diagnostics to access of proper treatment plans. Therefore, there is a dire need for neurologists and neurology training in limited-resource settings. In the next ten years, the Global Neurology program would have reduced this gap by creating a community of neurologists, through international collaborations, that would ease the burden of disease and improve access to expert neurology care. With the advancing knowledge in treatment of neurological disorders in developed countries, limited resource settings will not be so far behind as this expertise will reach facilities through this program. It will also help in training of the local physicians and provide mentorship to early career neurologists. It will also open many doors for research collaborations, as resources will be spread across the globe. It will also give opportunity to specialists to practice in environments they are not familiar with and give an additional perspective on the diversity of culture and how it impacts treatment.
Q: How did you seek out mentorship? What advice would you give other trainees regarding how to choose a mentor?
When I was thinking of where I would do my neurology residency, as Zambia had no neurology training program at that time, I received a call from my former Head of Clinical Care, informing me that Zambia would start a neurology training program, but I had to do my internal medicine residency first. I quickly applied for the medicine residency, and it was during this time that I met Dr. Kenneth Kapembwa, a nephrologist, who provided great mentorship – not just in my academic world but also in some social aspects of my life. Watching how he provided leadership and care truly inspired me, and I made sure to frequently knock on his door for guidance and counsel. My interpersonal skills were not great but began to improve as I continued to interact with him. When the neurology program was finally launched, I met Dr. Deanna Saylor who has continued to offer great mentorship. And with the first two neurology classes before me, I have received great mentorship from those who have graduated. Dr. Saylor has created a neurology team that is like family, lifting each other up in different aspects of life. Throughout my training, I have met other neurologists located internationally, who continue to provide mentorship in my career.
My advice to other trainees regarding how to choose a mentor is to first set clear objectives of what you want to achieve out of the mentor-mentee relationship. Secondly, don’t be hesitant to seek someone local and is closely related to your field of interest. Seek someone who will also have a positive impact outside your profession because social skills matter. Always be willing to learn and expand your search internationally.