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Fellow Spotlight: Christian Hernandez, MD

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A variety of factors drew Christian Hernandez, MD, to our fellowship in Neurocritical Care: an interest in how the nervous system functions, the critical thinking and fast analysis required to care for people who are dealing with critical illness, and the privilege of caring for “resilient, inspiring” patients. In this week’s Spotlight interview, Hernandez talks to us about these interests, his 12-hour days, and making the adjustment from Chicago to Durham.

What are your responsibilities as a neurocritical care fellow? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am primarily responsible for taking care of patients in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit (ICU) who have life-threatening injuries or diseases of the nervous system. When I am not in the Neuro ICU, I am either working on my research projects, rotating through one of the other ICUs in the hospital, or seeing Neurology consults at DRH. I also have protected time to attend lectures throughout the week, and have various opportunities to teach residents and medical students throughout the year, which I really enjoy.

A typical day in the NeuroICU starts around 6:45 a.m. After reviewing the overnight events with the night team, I help lead rounds with a multidisciplinary team of neurology/neurosurgery residents, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, and respiratory therapists where we evaluate patients and develop plans for their care. The rest of the day is spent implementing those plans, performing any procedures that are necessary, attending lectures that might be scheduled for that day, and admitting new patients. The day usually ends between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.

How did you get interested in neurology? What do you enjoy the most about neurocritical care?
I first became interested in the neurosciences when I took a neurobiology course in college and my fascination with the nervous system has been unwavering ever since. I have enjoyed being exposed to several of the other medical specialties throughout my training, but nothing has been more compelling to me than learning about the nervous system and the diseases that can affect it.

There seems to be no shortage of awe in being a neurologist as I find myself feeling captivated on a regular basis while caring for my patients. And several of the patients that I have had the privilege of caring for have been some of the most resilient and inspiring people I have ever met.

What drew me to neurocritical care was the diversity of challenges encountered and the broad knowledge base that it offers. I really enjoy the critical thinking that is involved in caring for some of the sickest patients in the hospital, and it was my rotations in the NeuroICU during residency where I felt most immersed in my work. Caring for these patients has been very rewarding and humbling, and I really like being part of a multidisciplinary team of really smart people.

Hernandez and wife Cassie riding elephants during their 2013 honeymoon in Thailand.

You’re coming to us from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Besides the weather, what’s the biggest change you’ve encountered living in the triangle?
The biggest change has been the overall slower pace of life here in Durham, and it has been a very welcome change! It was absolutely great living in Chicago with all of its world-class amenities for a few years, but I discovered that the fast paced big city life loses its appeal pretty quickly once you start having kids. Durham has been a perfect fit for us and we are very excited about spending the next few years here. The other big change has been the amount of driving that I have been doing. I relied almost exclusively on public transportation while living in Chicago as it was so accessible and I loathed driving in the city. But the traffic and parking is infinitely better here in Durham, so it really hasn’t been that bad at all.

In addition, being able to walk to the Farmer's Market and several of the downtown eateries has certainly made the transition from living in downtown Chicago easier! There is a bus stop at the end of my street, but it's only a seven minute drive to the hospital so it's hard to beat that. However I am looking forward to being able to bike to work once the cooler weather comes around.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
When I’m not at work, I try to spend as much time with my wife and two-year old son as I can. We love being outdoors and do quite a bit of hiking and camping. I also really enjoy cycling and I am looking forward to doing some the rides in the area. I started sailing a few months ago when I was still living in Chicago and it’s a hobby that I would like to continue developing here in North Carolina. I am also somewhat of an amateur astronomer, though I wasn’t able to use my telescope much in Chicago, but it’s another thing I am looking forward to being able to do here in North Carolina.

Hernandez and Cassie take a walk with their two-year-old, Everett.