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Faculty Spotlight: Michael Pietak, MD

Friday, April 14, 2017

This week’s “spotlight” interview shines on Duke Raleigh’s Michael Pietak, MD. Pietak talks to us about his work seeing epilepsy and general neurology patients as well as working with medical students during their neurology rotations, how the puzzle-solving nature of clinical neurology drew him into the field and into epilepsy treatment in particular, and whether he or his wife (the division of General Internal Medicine’s Laura Caputo, MD), has the tougher job here at Duke.

What are your responsibilities within the Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I primarily see patients in my clinic at Duke Neurology of Raleigh, and also take call once every four weeks at Duke Raleigh Hospital. My typical clinic day is spent seeing new seizure consults in the morning, and then finishing up with some general neurology in the afternoon. I am also a Medical Instructor in the Department of Neurology. I frequently have medical students join me in clinic for their neurology rotation where they get a chance to see what outpatient neurology looks like.

How did you decide to become a neurologist? How did you decide to focus on treating patients with epilepsy?
I went into medicine not knowing I would go into neurology, but always had a strong draw to the neurosciences. Like most of us, I thought the diseases were interesting and the complexity was a draw. I became interested in epilepsy after my SAR rotation. It's almost like playing detective - I gather all the details of a story and try to put them together.

You completed both your residency and a fellowship in clinical neurophysiology here at Duke. What’s one memory that stands out about each of those experiences?
The best memories I have are the friendships and relationships I made during that time. I'm still close with several of my colleagues from training and feel very fortunate to have had such a good experience.

You’re married to a fellow Duke clinician, Laura Caputo, MD, in the Medicine Department’s Division of General Internal Medicine. Which one of you has the most difficult job? How do you both manage to spend time together despite having two busy schedules?

I'm someone who has always disliked nightshifts and being on the pager, so I would say Laura has the more difficult job. That said, I am a little jealous of her occasional off days during the week. Now that we are both attendings we actually have more flexibility with our schedules and have plenty of opportunities to spend time together.

Pietak and Caputo
Pietak and his wife Laura Caupto, MD, enjoy some time in Florence, Italy.

What’s one thing you wished more patients knew about epilepsy and its treatment?
I wish more patients knew about the importance of medication compliance. Many of my epilepsy patients are young and their seizure drug may be the only medicine they are responsible for, but remembering to do that twice a day can still be a challenge. I encourage my patients to take advantage of modern conveniences like phone alarms and apps to help them stay on track.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I've always been a huge car and motorcycle nerd, and I spend plenty of time in my garage. I was also into racing back in Michigan and have finally found the time to pick it up again.

Pietak gets ready to enjoy the open road.