This week's faculty spotlight shines on Dmitry Tchapyhnikov, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Neurology. Tchapyhnikov talks to us about how, as a young person growing up in a Russian family, he was encouraged to be a doctor from an early age. He also talks about his collaboration made possible through Duke FORGE working with a team of data scientists to develop a machine learning algorithm to automatically detect seizures in the neonatal ICU, and offers some sage advice for trainees.
How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I have been at Duke since 2012 when I came here for pediatrics residency. I had a regional reason for being in North Carolina (my wife was getting her PhD at UNC at the time), but I was specifically drawn to Duke because of our strong clinical program and many interesting research opportunities. I stayed on at Duke as a fellow and now as faculty because of the awesome people I get to work with and because Durham is a great city.
What are your current responsibilities within the Department of Pediatrics? What does your typical day look like?
I am a pediatric epilepsy specialist and director of the Duke Center for Ketogenic Therapy. My daily and weekly schedule can vary quite a bit. I spend two days a week in outpatient clinic, which includes running the ketogenic diet and first time seizure clinics. The rest of the week I divide my time between reading EEGs, staffing inpatient consults when on service, doing neurophysiologic intraoperative monitoring (a procedure to monitor nervous system integrity during surgeries on the spine or brain), and conducting epilepsy-related clinical outcomes research.
How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue pediatric neurology in particular?
Being a doctor is encouraged from an early age when you grow up in a Russian family! As a college student I was fascinated by cognitive neurology and understanding the physiological underpinnings of human behavior. As a medical student, I thought I would pursue adult neurology but realized early on that I loved working with children and found pediatric neurological conditions to be particularly fascinating and intellectually challenging.
What’s one thing you wished more of your patients knew about pediatric neurology or medicine in general?
I do not perform brain surgery, I also do not treat urological conditions! On a more serious note, I think it’s important for families to realize how essential they are in medical decision making. I am not here to dictate treatment but to guide families through the decision making process of choosing which treatment is the best option for their child. Caring for children with neurological conditions and especially epilepsy is a team effort that must include the family, the physician, our awesome nurses, dieticians, coordinators and many others.
What are your specific interests in the field of pediatric neurology? What do you enjoy most about your work?
My main clinical and research interests are pediatric epilepsy, status epilepticus and using data-driven approaches to assess clinical outcomes and find optimal treatment strategies. There are a ton of important clinical questions that remain unanswered, and I continue to be amazed at how seamlessly clinical work and clinical research relate to each other in my field. Interacting with families and improving kids’ quality of life is an extremely rewarding aspect of my work. I also enjoy the diversity of my week since I am not only in clinic but also read EEGs, teach students/residents, and have a little time to do research.
Is there any research or other special projects you are doing or plan on doing?
One of my more exciting projects has been a collaboration made possible through Duke FORGE. I am working with a very talented team of data scientists to develop a machine learning algorithm to automatically detect seizures in the neonatal ICU. As an overarching goal, I would like to increase the utilization of electronic health records and other “big data” sources to answer epilepsy-related clinical research questions.
You completed two fellowships here at Duke—one in pediatric neurology and the other in clinical neurophysiology. Do you have any advice for trainees?
Every stage of your training is a building block that sets you up for the future. Have a clear plan in mind when deciding to do a fellowship and a good sense of where you want it to lead you to (research career, private practice, academic clinical career, industry, etc). A fellowship that trains you in performing a procedure is always a big plus regardless of what you decide to do later in life.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
When not listening to the Frozen soundtrack (on repeat) with my 4 year old daughter, I try to stay active by traveling, hiking, camping, and skiing. My wife and I have done several multi-day canoe camping trips in the wilderness, so we definitely enjoy going “off the grid” every once in a while. We also love all the great restaurants and family friendly activities around Durham.