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Faculty Spotlight: M. Tariq Bhatti, MD

Thursday, June 29, 2017

M. Tariq Bhatti, MD, finds his calling in the intersection of multiple fields of medicine: neurology, ophthalmology, and neurosurgery for starters, but also rheumatology, infectious disease and other fields on a regular basis. For this week's "Faculty Spotlight" interview Bhatti talks to us about how he got interested in this subset of medicine, offers some public speaking tips, and shares his joys of exercise and documentaries when he's not at Duke.

What are your responsibilities within the Department and the School of Medicine? What does your average work day look like?
I am a full-time clinician at Duke with a strong interest in clinical research and education. I am in clinic nearly every day of the week and several times a month am in the operating room. Most of my clinics are dedicated to neuro-ophthalmology but I also have a few clinics a month for general ophthalmology patients.

What drew you to the intersection between ophthalmology, neurology, and neurosurgery? What do you enjoy most about each of these areas?
To be honest, I was not sure what I wanted to become during medical school. I had a strong interest in neurology but I also wanted to be a surgeon. It was my father, an internist, who suggested I pursue a career in ophthalmology. However, it was during my ophthalmology residency that I was introduced to the subspecialty of neuro-ophthalmology. I had a wonderful mentor -- John Guy (in fact we are best friends to this day), who showed me the complexity and diversity of neuro-ophthalmology and how I could best use my skill set.

For me neuro-ophthalmology allows me to go beyond the eyeball and into so many other fields of medicine- not just neurology and neurosurgery. Often I find myself working with my otolaryngology, rheumatology, infectious disease, and genetic colleagues. 

You’re a regular speaker in the Neurology Department's Grand Rounds, as well as to housestaff within various Departments. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to improve their public speaking?
For some, public speaking comes naturally but for me I found that I had to work on it and I continue to work on being a better public speaker. The best advice I can give anyone who wants to be a public speaker is know your subject and project your expertise and enthusiasm in a humble and enlightening fashion to the audience! 

How has neuro-ophthalmology changed the most since you were a resident?
It is amazing how much neuro-ophthalmology has changed since I was a resident. When I started in neuro-ophthalmology, the field was mostly known for its unique clinical presentations and esoteric case reports. But now neuro-ophthalmology has expanded into the realm of evidence based medicine with many landmark class-1 clinical trials such as the optic neuritis treatment trial (ONTT), ischemic optic neuropathy decompression trial (IONDT), and idiopathic intracranial hypertension treatment trial (IIHTT).

What changes to neuro-opthalmology do you see coming in the next 10 years?
There are many excited changes that are in the horizon for neuro-ophthalmology. There are some very smart people working in the lab to restore vision in patients with optic nerve disease. One particular area that is very exciting in neuro-ophthalmology is gene therapy. I am chair of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for the NIH funded gene therapy trial for Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy headed by Dr. John Guy. This trial is truly cutting edge and if successful will open the door for gene therapy of many other genetic disorders beyond neuro-ophthalmology.   

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I like to work-out and watch documentaries, particularly biographical and historical documentaries. 

Bhatti and his niece pose while traveling to Istanbul, Turkey.