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Faculty Spotlight: Justin Mhoon, MD

Thursday, November 3, 2016

As a medical student, Justin Mhoon, MD, wanted to do everything. Fortunately for the Department, “neurology is doing everything,” and so he came here. In this week’s Faculty Spotlight, Mhoon talks about balancing teaching medical students with his clinical practice, recalls the advice he received from his own mentors within the Department, and stonewalls on the reasons why his office is decorated with hippopotamuses.

What are your responsibilities within the Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I see general neurology and neuromuscular patients at the North Duke street clinic. We offer EMGs, peripheral nerve ultrasound, chemodenervation, carpal tunnel injections, etc... The practice is really a hybrid CPDC model that allows me to have a large clinical practice but also be involved in medical student and resident education which I really enjoy.

How did you decide to become a neurologist? What do you enjoy most about the field?
I liked all of my rotations in medical school (surgery, cardiology, radiology, internal medicine, psychiatry, pathology…) and really wanted to do everything. It turns out that neurology is doing everything. I also had two mentors who I really enjoyed getting to know and work with, Leon Prokop and Peter Dunn. They are old school Columbia Presbyterian trained neurologists. They taught me a new way to solve problems.  

You completed both your residency and a fellowship in Neuromuscular Medicine with Duke Neurology. What’s one memory that stands out from each of those experiences?

Too many great memories to pick one. I remember working with a phenomenal team of clinicians who had many lessons to teach.

As a medical student I interviewed at a couple of Neurology programs. Out of all of the program directors I met there are two that I still remember meeting like it was yesterday: Ted Burns and Joel Morgenlander. I was impressed by both but it was Dr. Morgenlander who made the biggest impact. I could tell he really cared about the residents, about teaching, and about taking care of people. All of the faculty had influenced me greatly and had pearls to share:

  • Dr. Chilukuri - “Made complex problems seem simple.”
  • Dr. Skeen - “How to communicate with patients in terms they can easily understand.”
  • Dr. E Massey - “There is something to learn from every patient.”
  • Dr. J. Massey - “Make sure to talk to patients about things other than their medical problems."
  • Dr. Bedlack - "Look patients in the eyes when delivering bad news, let them know you are with them."
  • Dr. Stacy - “You don't have to cure patients to help them heal.”
  • Dr. Juel - “Invest time upfront with new patients; it pays large dividends later.”
  • Dr. Husain - “Do not over-call artifacts and give patients diseases they don't have."
  • Dr. Hurwitz - "Obesity is a serious problem. Make sure you tell all of your patients...directly.... multiple times.”
  • Dr. Graffagnino - “Spend the time needed to get the job done correctly. Even if that means rounding till 5:00 p.m.”
  • Dr. Rozear – “Keep the keepers, throw the rest back.”

And many others!

A regular part of your work involves teaching medical students during their clerkships in Neurology. What do you enjoy most about working with these students?

Teaching is often the best part of the day. This is a chance to help the students realize their potential, pass on what you have learned, and play a part in the future of medicine. The diversity of perspectives, learning styles, and backgrounds helps keep the clinic alive and ever evolving which prevents me from getting stuck in a rut or routine. Every day is different.

Speaking of medical students, it’s been 10 years since you earned your medical degree. How do you think you’ve changed the most professionally since you received this degree? If you could give your former self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Since medical school I have learned that there is a lot more to caring for patients than knowing information. Often times just listening to the story the patient wants to tell is more therapeutic than anything else.

I would tell my former self to enjoy the journey and not worry about the destination.

Your office is decorated with pictures and figures of hippopotamuses. How many hippo-related pieces of art do you have, and how did this connection come about?

Do I like hippos? No. Do I want to provide excellent care to my patients and be a great teacher? Yes. That is all I can say about that.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Family (three little ones with one on the way), friends, golf, piano, guitar.

Mhoon and family