In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 2, 2022

Hugo Botha, M.B., Ch.B., on Mayo legends who inspire his career, awe-inspiring Mayo memories, more

By In the Loop
Hugo Botha, M.D.

This column spotlights the kinds of people you think about when you think about Mayo Clinic. They've answered questions, serious and otherwise, so you can know them better.

You see them at bedsides. Behind desks. You may spot them walking down a hall or sprinting across a lobby, or talking quietly with a patient and family. They may be friends, teammates or someone you know only by sight. But you're glad they're here. And it's reassuring to know that the health of our patients, our colleagues and the institution itself rests in their capable, friendly, earnest, caring and compassionate hands.

While in medical school in South Africa, Hugo Botha, M.B., Ch.B., began researching the best neurology departments and training programs in the world, and saw that Mayo Clinic was consistently ranked among the best. Dr. Botha went on to read "Fifty Neurologic Cases From Mayo Clinic," edited by John Noseworthy, M.D., emeritus president and CEO of Mayo Clinic.

"I was amazed and made it my long-term goal to train and work here," Dr. Botha says. "It took hard work and a lot of good fortune, but I moved here for residency in 2012 and haven't left."

In the decade since, Dr. Botha, now a Mayo Clinic neurologist, says he has observed an emergent phenomenon at Mayo Clinic.

"It is hard to describe, unless you've worked here or perhaps been here as a patient," he says. "The combination of talented and dedicated staff, strong values centered on the needs of our patients, cutting-edge facilities and resources, and the generally friendly atmosphere of the Midwest result in something that is more than the sum of its parts. It's why so many people never leave, or if they do, it's often temporary."

One of my favorite things about Mayo Clinic: The breadth of expertise and cross-disciplinary teamwork Mayo fosters. It is not uncommon to have a bench scientist, engineer, physicist, statistician, software developer and various clinicians on the same meeting or project.

The single most important thing I did at work yesterday (or expect to do tomorrow): Like most health care providers, the most important thing I do at work is to provide care to our patients. But in the spirit of giving a more interesting answer, I'm part of the Neurology Artificial Intelligence Program. As part of this program, one of my key roles is to act as a translator of sorts, turning clinical knowledge and needs into goals and projects for our data science and software experts, and then translating their ideas and questions back into a clinical language for my colleagues. I love working in this role and genuinely believe clinician-scientist input will be critical if we are going to adopt more technology in the care of our patients.

A book I would recommend, or one I want to read (and why): I'll give you two: one fiction and one nonfiction. For fiction, I would recommend "Neuromancer"by William Gibson, and the two books that round out that trilogy. It predates "The Matrix," but has many similar ideas and with the rise of "metaverse" companies now is as good a time as any to read it. The nonfiction recommendation would be "The Woman Who Walked Into The Sea"by Alice Wexler. It is a mixture of science and history, and sociology, that really captures the complexities of neurodegenerative disease well.

Mayo Clinic has taught me: That your values and principles as a health care provider are the most important things. Health care is changing rapidly, and some of the change is exciting and welcome, while other aspects are frustrating and even scary. However, we cannot lose sight of our values and principles as an institution and as providers.

Most treasured or best advice from a colleague at Mayo: I have received countless pieces of advice, so it is hard to choose. One of my favorite sayings is from David T. Jones, M.D., who always tells his colleagues and trainees to "use your eyeballs." It has also been referred to as the "interocular traumatic test" in the literature. The idea is that it is easy to just rely on reports or derived data, but often if you look closely at your data directly, the conclusions or implications are obvious.

Most memorable Mayo moment: So many of the most important events in my life happened here. I met my wife, Farwa Ali, M.B.B.S., who moved here for her neurology residency from Pakistan. Most of my closest friends were fellow trainees, and almost everyone at our wedding works or worked at Mayo Clinic. So perhaps the most memorable moment should be the first. I came to Mayo as a visiting medical student in December of 2010 and can vividly remember walking into the Gonda Lobby, with the piano playing and snow falling outside, and being filled with awe.

If I could choose the "hold" music for Mayo Clinic: This is probably why they don't let us choose that music, but I would just have "The Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floydon repeat.

Favorite space on campus this month: The Gonda Lobby on a summer evening when it is mostly empty.

People who inspire me: I was inspired by many different neurologists to move here from the other side of the world. Over the last decade, my expectations have only been exceeded. My area of neurology is filled with legends of the field, from Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., and David Knopman, M.D., to Clifford Jack, M.D., and Dennis Dickson, M.D.

However, based on where my career is heading now, I'd like to highlight Joseph R. Duffy Jr., Ph.D.. Joe is emeritus professor of speech pathology at Mayo Clinic. I started working with Joe on research shortly after coming to Mayo Clinic and subsequently worked with him clinically. He is one of the best clinicians I've seen, a wonderful teacher and a fair critic. Despite receiving just about every award he was eligible for, he has remained humble and approachable. But it is his attention to detail in his practice and his research, together with his insatiable curiosity, that inspires me most. He almost always hears or sees something the rest of us missed. Even now, in his semiretired role, he is actively contributing to the Neurology Artificial Intelligence Program's work using machine learning on speech samples. If I had to nominate one person as the embodiment of a clinician-scientist at Mayo, it would be Joe.

The most fun I've had at work this year: As I mentioned before, I'm part of the Neurology Artificial Intelligence Program, which is a multidisciplinary team with expertise in machine learning and data science, statistics, software development, neuroscience and neurology. We have had several projects where we rapidly iterated on an idea that addresses a clinical need. This development cycle is extremely fun, moving from idea to prototype algorithm to application, which can be presented to providers for feedback, and then iterated on further.

Team Dr. Charlie or Team Dr. Will? Or Team Mother Alfred or Team Dr. W.W. Why? The Mayo guys get enough love. Team Moes all the way. Her legacy is remarkable, between Saint Marys Hospital and the many schools and students. And when one considers how hard it was in the 1800s for women, it is even more impressive.

When patients recall their visit to Mayo Clinic, I hope they remember: That they were listened to and cared for.


Tags: Dr. Clifford Jack, Dr. David Knopman, Dr. David T. Jones, Dr. Dennis Dickson\, Dr. Farwa Ali, Dr. Hugo Botha, Dr. John Noseworthy, Dr. Joseph R. Duffy Jr., Dr. Ronald Petersen, In a Word, Staff Stories

Great story. When I was shopping for a heart surgeon, I did my due diligence and chose Mayo. It is because Mayo is team-centric, which is why I travel from Austin, Texas for all my healthcare. I totally agree with Dark Side of the Moon for hood music. Cheers.

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