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Faculty Spotlight: Hemang Shah, MD

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hemang Shah, MD, sees himself as a car-based GPS system in the lives of his patients, offering useful, tailored information to them about their conditions but allowing them to remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to their health. In this week’s “Faculty Spotlight” interview, Shah talks to us about treating patients at Burlington’s Kernodle Clinic, finding reading material that matches his patients’ interests, and building robots and making up silly stories with his children when he’s not at work.

What kinds of patients do you see at the Kernodle Clinic? What does a typical day for you look like?
I see general neurology patients at Kernodle Clinic in Burlington. I like seeing headache and epilepsy patients. For a while now, as I have been only seeing out-patients Monday – Friday 8 - 5, as I don’t see any in-patients at Alamance Regional. Elon PA students, local high school students, and Alamance Community College students frequently rotate with me.

How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue neurology in particular?
Having a family member with a neurological condition, while growing up, got me interested in medicine and neuroscience. My stroke research at UNC solidified my love for neurology.

In your Duke Health profile video, you talk about helping patients use lifestyle modification and exercise to improve their conditions and well-being. Can you talk more about that and how these behaviors are able to help your patients?

Cautiously keeping an open mind to alternative medicine makes me closer to patients, and they don’t feel disregarded or unheard. I commonly quote to my patients “eat your food like medicine or you will be eating medicine like food” (source – unknown).

I commonly give my patients an analogy of me being the GPS in their car. I will suggest to them an optimal route but they are still in the driver’s seat for their healthcare. I tell them, even if they don’t follow my advice sometimes, I will stick with them on their journey to optimal health and suggest alternatives down the road.

Shah poses with his wife and two children.

I try to mention the importance of physical exercise at every visit with each patient. My patients love to see images of their medical condition on an iPad (I have a slide set for most of the neurological conditions).Showing patients their radiological images, and not just informing them of my conclusion, has made many of my patients feel like they understand more about their condition.

I routinely suggest my patients a book they can read that is appropriate for their condition. (e.g. Musicophilia, Hallucinations, Awakenings, Spark, Softwired, Tell Tale Brain, Brains Way of Healing etc).

What’s one thing you wished more of your patients knew about neurological conditions or medicine in general?
I wish more patients knew about neuroplasticity and are more hopeful for their recovery. I wish they were not exposed to direct pharmaceutical marketing through media. I wish there was more regulation on supplements/over-the-counter health products and the claims they can make.

I wish more non-neurologist physicians knew about therapeutic advances in neurology. Many of them have a very naïve understanding in thinking that we are still “Diagnose and Adios.” They think we diagnose untreatable conditions, when there’s a lot that we can do.

What did you want to be growing up? If you weren’t a neurologist, what would you be?
What I wanted to be changed many times growing up. Early on I wanted to study space (currently reading the book – A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking) and then later on Genetics. If I weren’t a neurologist, I would have been an entrepreneur or software engineer.

Shah and his son enjoy a game of chess.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Other than admiring and zooming around in my Tesla Model S, I love to build small robots with my son (Lego Mindstrom EV3 – best one we copied from the Internet was a Rubik’s Cube solving robot). My daughter really enjoys my made up silly stories every night. Low-key weekends with my wife and kids are what I enjoy the most.

Shah and family relaxing in the great outdoors.