Resident Spotlight: Cecilia Fernandes, MD
For Resident Cecilia Fernandes, MD, the call to child neurology came from three directions--an early interest in neuroanatomy in medical school, a talented mentor in the field who was an expert at diagnosis, and Fernandes’ knowledge that her care and advocacy could make a difference in her patients’ lives In this “Resident Spotlight” interview, Fernandes talks to us about adjusting to treating adult patients during her year with the Neurology Department, her dream jobs in and outside of the fields of medicine, and how meditation makes a difference in her daily life.
Welcome to the Neurology Department! What’s been the biggest change you’ve experienced so far in working with adult patients?
After completing three years of pediatrics training, I was quite anxious about how I would adjust to working with the adult population again, especially responding to stroke codes etc. The last time I have dealt with sick adults having a complex medical history with several organ failures/co-morbidities was at least four years ago.
So my biggest challenge has been to re-wire my thinking to include important aspects of adult medicine, expand my knowledge to encompass not just basic neurology but also refresh my basic internal medicine knowledge.
My seniors and colleagues in the Neurology Department have been extremely supportive in guiding me and helping with this shift. What has struck me however during my transition, is that in the hospital setting, sick adults are just big children. They share the same vulnerability as a young infant or child, they seek the same kind of care, comfort and reassurance. Thus being a pediatrician with some innate qualities to serve the vulnerable, has helped me connect with adults.
How did you decide to study neurology? What do you enjoy most about pediatric neurology in particular?
During medical school, I was particularly interested in neuroanatomy, I spent a great deal of time understanding it and then coaching medical students as I find teaching is the best way to learn. After completing my medical school, I was working as a pediatrics house officer at a tertiary hospital in Mumbai.
I was fortunate to work with a highly talented child neurologist, Dr. Vragesh Udani. He saw an interesting population of children with neurological disorders that were referred to him from several parts of the country with a challenging diagnosis or undiagnosed presentations. He also primarily looked after children with intractable epilepsy and neuro-metabolic disorders. This caught my interest as I admired the way he would obtain the history and fish for intricate details, examine all the subtle physical findings, and come up with a differential diagnosis.
This interest was further reinforced during my pediatrics residency in New York, when I learnt that as a child neurologist I could offer my special expertise in diagnosing and treating children with neurological disorders, advocate for children with special needs and aid families in understanding and caring for their children with sometimes devastating neurological illnesses. Hence, I applied for an advanced pediatrics neurology spot in my PGY2 pediatrics year.
Do you have any plans for what you’d like to do after you complete your training? If you could choose any job in the world, what would it be?
I have no specific plans for now. I lean towards practicing as a general child neurologist in an outpatient setting. If I were to chose any job in the world, I would have probably become a kindergarten/preschool teacher. I enjoy watching a child develop in that age group and would like to introduce simple childhood self-awareness techniques in a classroom through fun learning projects.
What’s the most memorable or unusual experience that you’ve had during your time at Duke so far?
In such a short span of three months, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with my colleagues in the Neurology Department. They are a brilliant group of supportive, knowledgeable and kind individuals who are passionate about their patients and provide the best quality of care. I feel so fortunate to train at Duke and learn something new every day.
However, the first time I have ever seen a solar eclipse tops my list of recent memories at Duke. I viewed the Great American Solar Eclipse on August 21st, 2017 with my neurology and medicine colleagues at the Duke Hospital Campus.
You’re a strong proponent of meditation, practicing on a regular basis and even leading classes on the subject. How did you first get involved in this activity, and how does it help you in your daily life?
I started my spiritual journey when I first did a 10-day silent meditation course in India at the age of 23. Thereafter my seeking continued which led me to meeting my enlightened master and guide in October 2015. Nothing changed instantly, but a lot of my concepts of meditation, spirituality and self awareness was made clear. The process of growth has been gradual and is continuing. Through consistent meditation, I quite naturally no longer indulge in complex thoughts; I’ve learnt to live in a heartful state. I continue to accept the daily stressors of life and learn about my weaknesses and strengths. Thus making a daily effort to improve myself to better serve everyone around me. It has also helped improve my mental and physical health.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I enjoy cooking especially Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisine. I frequently try out my own recipes with different spices. I also spend my free time volunteering for an NGO (Youth for Global Peace and Transformation" the youth wing of MaitriBodh Parivaar that aids in global upliftment through social activities. I create marketing material such as videos and flyers for the organization.
Left: Fernandes and her boyfriend Vineet attend a wedding; Right: Fernandes visits her family during a recent visit to New York City.