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Alumni Spotlight: Chen Lin, MD

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chen Lin, MD, knew he wanted to help patients with stroke after his first few days working with stroke attendings as a medical student. Later, as a resident at the Duke Neurology Department, he became further interested in neurorehabilitation while working with Jodi Hawes, MD. Now he’s putting those interests together at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he leads a multidisciplinary clinic for stroke recovery and rehabilitation. In his “Alumni Spotlight” interview, Lin talks to us about how factors such as mental health affect the biology as well as the quality of life for patients with stroke. He also reflects on his time at Duke, and offers some advice for medical students and residents interested in stroke.

What are your current responsibilities at UAB? What does a typical workday look like for you?
It’s a cliché, but there’s no typical day. I am currently majority research with the Birmingham VA supporting the majority of my time with a VA grant. For clinical responsibilities at the VA, I assist with answering stroke calls and clinics when on duty. UAB is the largest medical center in the state of Alabama. I still have a handful of inpatient weeks at UAB and a half-day clinic a week in the rehab center. We started the UAB multidisciplinary clinic for stroke recovery and rehabilitation earlier this year. Our therapists were pioneers of the constraint-induced movement therapy decades ago. The remainder of my time is filled with building collaborative projects at UAB and supporting our telestroke system. I am also the site-PI of Dr. Feng’s TRANSPORT2 trial.

How did you decide to specialize in stroke and vascular neurology? What do you find most interesting or fulfilling about the field?
Stroke found me as a medical student. I engaged with the faculty members in Neurology conducting research early on at my medical school. It just so happened they were all stroke attendings. That work led to a few publications, and after that, I was hooked! It was Dr. Hawes in residency that opened my eyes towards neurorehabilitation and specifically stroke rehabilitation. We wrote an article in the Green Journal and again, I was hooked!

When we can come up with unique solutions to individual issues after stroke, it can be a rewarding experience. Our multidisciplinary clinic is a good example where we have been able to provide coordinated care for unique issues patients with stroke face.

Here's more information.

Much of your patient care and clinical research focuses on recovery and rehabilitation after stroke. What are the main challenges that patients have in this area, and how does your work address those challenges?
Patients have different degrees of disability after stroke that go beyond our traditional metrics. Mental health is a major component that affects patients’ recovery, and it is an underappreciated component. Biologically, it can affect neuroplasticity. Functionally, it can affect a broad range of issues including motivation, sleep, and quality of life. My work aims to identify the mechanisms of how mental health plays a role in recovery and how we can tackle it in our population.

It’s been three years since you graduated from our residency program. What’s a part of the program or an experience that stands out as being especially memorable or useful to you?

The Eldoret Kenya experience with Dr. Graffagnino was the most memorable. There are so many little moments that I recall from my Duke Residency. Now, as an attending, I can see myself in the flipped position from a resident. For instance, at the VA, when signing notes, I sometimes attest it by identifying the resident as Dr. [First Initial]. Anyone that has worked or read Dr. Rozear’s notes will recognize that.

What’s one bit of advice that you’d offer to residents or medical students interested in treating patients with stroke?
Stroke care involves more than just what we see in the hospital. We learn to identify the etiologies, the best prevention strategies and optimal rehabilitation and recovery plans. All our management strategies have been refined over decades of research. Our field continues to be at the forefront of medical research and patient care. Work with a mentor in stroke to better understand our passion for stroke care. Being at Duke certainly helps. There are many already there, which now includes Dr. Feng, who is a great mentor.

Building a mentorship network for an early career investigator and clinician is critical. One of mentors was a former Duke Neurology resident in the 80s, and another was a Duke undergraduate student.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
We just had our first child this summer, so learning to be a dad!

Chen Lin