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Resident Spotlight: Petra Brayo, MD

Monday, November 19, 2018
P Brayo

Petra Brayo, MD, first became interested in neurology in her 10th-grade biology class, first majoring in cellular and microbiology before pivoting to her medical degree in order to work with humans rather than mice. Now, as one of our second-year (or junior assistant) residents, she’s following patients in the inpatient and outpatient setting, 10 to 12 hours at a time. In this week’s “Spotlight” interview, Brayo talks to us about her experience as a resident so far, her plans for the future, and  how her master’s degree in urban bioethics informs how she plans on practicing as a neurologist.

What are your current responsibilities as a Junior Assistant Resident (JAR)? What does your typical day look like?
As a JAR, we spend the year rotating between all of the different inpatient and outpatient neurology services. So, the responsibilities really vary. In the inpatient setting, we rotate on the Stroke, General neurology, neuro ICU, and consult teams. As the JAR, we directly follow patients during their hospital stay, while trying to be familiar with other patients on the team to provide help to the interns. In the outpatient setting, we rotate through different subspecialty clinics (headache, neuroimmunology, neurodegenerative, etc.) and we usually see the patients with the specialists. We also have some night float weeks where we essentially take consults but during the night time. The days on inpatient are longish, starting at 7am, and can end at 530ish, but can go until 7pm. As for the outpatient weeks, they depend on the clinic schedules but typically 8-5 with some half days off when no one is not seeing patients.

How and when did you first get interested in neurology? What area(s) of neurology interest you the most?
In high school, I really liked the neurology unit in my 10th grade biology class. I ended up majoring in cellular and molecular biology in undergrad, which I really enjoyed and I was contemplating the PhD route. I did some basic science research on glioblastoma, but I realized I do not really have the patient or aptitude to babysit cells and mice, and I preferred working with people much more. I really liked talking to the neurologists and neurosurgeons who provided us with samples in my lab and I got to chat with some of them about what they did, which peaked my interest. As far as things go right now, I like neuroimmunology. I think  this is what I might want to do for fellowship, but I also did some research in epilepsy which I also find interesting, and rotating with some of the movement specialists is also fun. I guess maybe I am undecided.

You recently completed the first year of your residency program in internal medicine. What’s one experience from that time that stands out as especially useful or memorable?
It is difficult to think of one particular experience. It is definitely a very challenging year with a heavy clinical volume, but also very rewarding. I think I learned a lot in terms of medical management, and how the Duke healthcare system works. I think the great part about it is rotating through the different medical specialties and you get exposure to a lot. In a way, I think I actually miss the broad scope of internal medicine.

In addition to your medical degree, you also have a master’s degree in urban bioethics from Temple University. Would you tell me more about that program?
I studied philosophy in undergrad and I had some background in ethics. The best way to explain urban bioethics is that it is a field that looks at your typical bioethical issues, but adds a lens that is particular to an urban population. For example, end of life issues get an extra layer of complexity when you are dealing with a homeless population in terms of advanced life planning or HCPOA. Similarly, a diverse population in an urban setting might have different cultural beliefs about end of life, which can reflecting on autonomy, beneficence, etc. It was a great experience working on this degree in Philadelphia, and hopefully, it becomes useful if I end up moving to a city in the future.

How does that degree inform your current (or future) practice as a neurologist?
In a way, I think you become more attuned to different issues in healthcare practice and health policy. There are a number of health disparities in neurological conditions, and more often patients in urban settings experience the worst of these disparities. Generally, I think that physicians are the best people to advocate on behalf of our patients because we know about the pathophysiology of their disease and we see the patients throughout their disease experience. Ideally, I would like to pursue more research into these topics in the future as it relates to whatever subspecialty of neurology I end up practicing, and try to use that to influence some public health policy changes (Thinking big, I know).

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I like classical music and I have a season subscription to the NC Symphony in Raleigh. I used to do ceramics, but it is a little tough to carve out a couple of evenings out of my schedule every week to keep this going (to keep the clay wet and keep working on it.) I really like trivia, and a couple of residents and I have been going every now and then. I have been really trying to make it a weekly thing, though. Big hobby, though, I like traveling and exploring the world. My mission is to make it oversees to a new country once a year.

P Brayo

Brayo hikes the Narrows at Zion National Park earlier this fall.