Rendezvous with Dr. Madhuri Behari

Interviewer: Rudrakshi Shetty, Northern State Medical University, Russia

Dr. Madhuri Behari is the former Neurology HOD, AIIMS, New Delhi. She has also been the past president at Indian Academy of Neurology. Throughout her career, she has led various organizations such as MDSI(Movement Disorders of India), PRAN (Parkinsonism and Related Disorders Awareness Network). 

With groundbreaking contributions in the realm of movement disorders, she stands as a trailblazer in her field. Additionally, she holds the distinction of conducting the inaugural Indian trial of Selegiline in Parkinson’s disease, further solidifying her expertise and impact in the medical community.

We had the opportunity to interview such a multifaceted personality for Lexicon’s Edition 43.

Q: I would like to start by understanding a little bit about your journey. Choosing a speciality like neurology can be really nerve-wracking, what was the first spark you felt towards this stream that prompted you to take up this speciality?

Ans: After my PG I was jobless so I joined AIIMS as a research scholar where I was working in the neurology department where I had developed a certain liking for the subject. When I got admission in GB Pant Hospital for my DM, I was in a great dilemma because my parents wanted me to take up cardiology but my interest lay in neurology.  I was so so stressed about it so I went to Prof. Baldev Singh, my mentor, and I shared my problem with him and asked him what I should do. He said, “ Beta chinta mat kar, jo tujhe pasand hai, woh hi kar. Maa baap toh wahi like karenge jo tumhe pasand ho” (Don’t worry, choose what you like. Parents will like whatever you like).  It gave me a boost so I went and told my parents that I wanted to do Neurology and they supported me and I was so relieved. Mentorship and family support played a huge role.

Q: How was MDSI founded and what was the inspiration behind it?

Ans: I was doing my fellowship at Queensquare Hospital in London where I underwent one year training in movement disorders. There were a lot of things I learnt there which I wanted to introduce in India, one of those things was botox. Botox, at the time, was very interesting because we were seeing almost instant results. But it was not easy in our country because when I approached my seniors, I was told that I’ll need an Ethics Committee approval. After doing that,  I had to get in touch with a company which was going to manufacture it, etc. So it was a little complicated. Apart from that, there were also so many unanswered questions patients had about these diseases, especially Parkinson’s which led to the idea of its foundation.

Another interesting story from my fellowship time was when I was getting trained, one white lady told one of the nurses that I want to be treated by that Indian doctor. I was so pleased!

Q: Parkinson’s is one of the major debilitating neurologic diseases in India. Do you see the prognosis of Parkinson’s disease improving in the future?

Ans: Yes, definitely! I think there are many drugs coming up recently that show promising results. If we can detect patients early on based on their family history, through these drugs, we can almost completely prevent the development of the disease.

Q: Sometimes, patients present with chronic pain due to certain “invisible conditions” (eg. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), that may not appear in any test reports but may cause debilitating symptoms and many times, physicians end up invalidating their pain, what’s an appropriate way to approach such cases?

Ans: I think the most important thing to do in this situation is simply listen to the patient. In neurology, a diagnosis can be made based on history alone so simply listen to your patient. It is said that actual neurology start when all test report show normal results so don’t rely heavily on them.

Q: As UG students, neurology can seem very overwhelming, how would you advise us to approach this subject?

Ans: Neurology in my opinion is a very easy subject. Like 1+1 will have only one answer i.e. 2, similarly, if there’s a lesion in any given part, there’s a particular way in which it’ll present. There isn’t much disparity between clinical presentation of the same illness which makes this subject easy to approach. So stick to basic concepts to master the subject.

Q: Several Indian medical students are aspiring to pursue their residencies abroad in the contemporary period, what can be the various possible pros and cons of being a neurologist in India?

Ans: There are a lot of pros in my opinion like the number of patients we see here is way more as compared to other countries. The only con in this situation could be that one might not get enough time to take proper patient history.

I personally always knew that I wanted to stay in India. I just went abroad for a few fellowship to expand my horizons.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you tackle them?

Ans: To be honest, I have not faced a lot of challenges in my journey.  Even as a woman, I haven’t faced a lot of gender bias. I think things get challenging as you progress further in your career, like when you and your colleagues are aiming for the same position. Even in situations like these, just ignore and keep doing what you have to do to achieve your goal.

Q: Throughout your career, you must’ve seen so many stroke patients. But being a stroke survivor yourself, what helped you in your journey of recovery and how did you handle being on the other side of the equation?

Ans: This is a very interesting story. I was at the store when this happened.  I realised that there were certain words that I was not able to pronounce correctly and after a while, I realised that one-half of my body felt weak and that’s when I knew that I was having a stroke. I told the man in the store that I’m going to have a stroke so please take me to AIIMS. He said he’ll find a cab to get me there but I insisted a 3-wheeler would be better because we’ll reach faster. I told someone around me to call up the doctors at AIIMS and tell them that I’m having a stroke so that they’ll be ready once I get there. On my way to the hospital, I kept saying “All is well, all is well, all is well”. Me being a doctor was very helpful since I was able to recognize the signs and get help right away.

The recovery phase was difficult. Despite the immediate intervention, I still haven’t recovered completely. I used to move each finger, and each and every muscle in my body, I used to separate moong daal and channa daal, I even used to put zips on clothes to restore my coordination and fine movements. I underwent speech therapy and that’s also the time when I learnt classical music. It took a lot of willpower!

Q: You’ve accomplished so much in your career, are there any future career goals that you’re looking forward to?

Ans: One of the major goals that I wanted to accomplish for a very long time was teaching. Fortis has started a program across all its centres where I’m able to interact and teach so many neurologists. As for personal goals, I’ve started playing golf. I started just 6 months ago but I think I’m already very good at it.

Q: Word of advice for aspiring neurologists or medical students

Ans: Always be a good human being, that’s how you’ll be a good doctor. Listen to your patients and be very hardworking.  If you have a goal in mind, don’t think about anything else,  simply give it your all!

Dr. Madhuri Behari

Interviewer: Rudrakshi Shetty, Northern State Medical University, Russia

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