Skip to main content

Faculty Spotlight: F. Lee Hartsell, MD, MPH

Friday, May 19, 2017

The subject of this week’s “spotlight” interview, has been interested in neurology for most of his life. Today, F. Lee Hartsell, MD, MPH, talks to us about the 2,500 hours he spent on his (and colleague Katherine Heller’s, PhD) impending MS Mosaic iPhone app, reveals how he lost 50 pounds in three months (celebrate small victories, cut out evening snacks and track calories), and shares with us some of the report he wrote on neurotransmitters when he was 15 years old.

What are your responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does your average work day look like?
I’m a clinical assistant professor within the department. I spend approximately 60% of my time on patient care, and the remaining 40% on clinical research. During an average week I will spend three days in clinic and two days in the office. These days, both non-clinical time has been committed to research while we ramp up for the launch of MS Mosaic.

What drew you to neurology? How did you get interested in multiple sclerosis and neuro-immunological conditions in particular?
Even as a kid, I was interested in neuroscience. When I was fifteen, I wrote a paper on neurotransmitters for a summer class (yes - I went to geek camp). I still have a copy of the paper in my office. It’s pretty funny to read now since I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about, but I became hooked all the same. As for my interest in neuroimmunology, like everything it was the culmination of opportunities and life experiences. As a medical student, I had the opportunity to spend a year as a research fellow in an immunobiology lab. It was around that time that I learned one of my best college friends has MS. Upon starting residency, I sought out opportunities to work with this very special population.

The first page of the then-15-year-old Hartsell's essay on seratonin, written in summer "geek camp."

In addition to your MD, you have an MPH in health behavior and education. What interests you the most about this area of study? How does your knowledge from this field influence your current work?
While in college, I developed an interest in medical anthropology. I even spent a couple years studying it at the master’s level. Out of that, I became increasingly aware of the social determinants of health - how culture, and our shared belief systems, influence our experience of disease. There’s really no significant opportunity to explore this in medical school, but it is really within the DNA of Health Behavior/Health Education. I haven’t had much opportunity to use this knowledge in my everyday work, but it has recently informed our community organizing initiative within MS Mosaic (the MS Mosaic Artisans).

The first release of your MS Mosaic app is nearing completion. How many hours do you think you’ve spent directly on this project so far?
We began work on MS Mosaic approximately two years ago. I’d say about 2500 hours between grant applications, IRB drafting, app development, website development, partner meetings, and internal meetings with various stakeholders (DHTS, OIT, Duke legal, information security office, Duke office of Clinical Research, etc).

What changes to MS Mosaic do you see coming in the next year?
If we get funding, we will develop an Android version of the mobile application and port the entire platform to a system that allows us to push customized surveys and tasks to select participants. We also will begin work on EMR integration, but this will take more than the next year to accomplish. Beyond the app, the MS Mosaic team will also launch several pilot sub-studies to expand the scope of the project further. If they go well, we will transition them into a multi-center study.

You’ve lost a significant amount of weight recently. How did you go about doing this? Do you have any tips for others who want to reach a healthier weight while maintaining a busy schedule?
Yes, I deliberately lost a little over 50 pounds in three months (January to early April). It really comes down to consistently counting your food and exercise calories and then doing the math. My best tips are: 1) use any one of the various mobile applications out there to keep track of these calories (MyFitnessPal worked for me, but you might prefer a different one; 2) Weigh yourself each morning around the same time using a scale that measures to a tenth of a pound. That way you can celebrate the small daily victories; 3) Go to bed early to cut down on the temptation of evening snacks. You’ll get a full night sleep (shout out to our sleep medicine folks) and can use the early morning hours to accomplish more (like exercise, prep for clinic, or do some reading).

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Over the last several months, I’ve gotten back into swimming. I competed up through high school, but stopped in college (there's no way I would've made the Stanford team). I’ll also start learning the piano and Chinese with my three daughters this summer. As for “B-side” hobbies, I watch plenty of movies (our family’s iTunes library currently stands at 629 titles).

Hartsell and family
Hartsell and his family pose in this 2012 photo taken just before he joined the Department.