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Interview with Dr. Erin Conrad (Humans of Neuroscience)

Image Credits: Fakurian Design (Unsplash)

Dr. Erin Conrad is a board-certified neurologist working in the Penn Neuroscience Center. She is involved in their Seizures and Epilepsy Program, a Level 4 center providing individualized evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy. Dr. Conrad also holds privileges at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, and Pennsylvania Hospital. After attending medical school at the University of Michigan in 2015, Dr. Conrad completed her residency and fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Her expertise includes Epilepsy, Seizures, and Deep Brain Stimulation.

What drew you to pursue neuroscience?

I went to medical school to become a doctor so that I could help people facing disease. I became interested in neurology — a specialty that treats patients with diseases of the nervous system — because of its systematic approach to diagnosis.

Tell me about your “brain journey.” Can you tell me about yourself and your work in neuroscience?

I completed medical school, neurology residency, and epilepsy fellowship. I am now an epilepsy instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. I spend about 25% of my time doing clinical work in which I treat people with epilepsy. The remainder of my time I spend doing neuroengineering/neuroscience research focused on applying quantitative analysis to EEG data (which measures electrical brain waves) in order to improve our understanding and treatment of epilepsy.

What obstacles did you face in the path to getting where you are?

Training to be a doctor was challenging. Medical school and residency take a long time — 8 years after college (give or take) if you go straight through — and involve long hours, and you encounter a lot of very sad cases.

Did you face any issues regarding ignorance or stereotypes in your work?

Within medicine, there is an old stereotype that neurologists are very clever at diagnosing, but once they make the diagnosis, they can’t offer any treatments. This is definitely no longer true! The number of effective therapies we can offer patients in epilepsy and other subspecialties has exploded in the last twenty years. And we are learning more and more about the brain every year, making it a very exciting time to be a neurologist.

How do you feel about your current place in neuroscience?

I feel very lucky to have a job that combines clinical work and science. Seeing patients raises new questions for research. And knowing that the goal of the research is to help patients motivates the science.

How did you get yourself ready for a challenging career in high school and college?

Take a variety of classes and see what you love! If you end up doing neuroscience or neurology, it will be a long road of focused study. High school and college are the perfect time to explore a variety of fields to 1) make sure you are choosing a career you like and 2) have a well-rounded breadth of knowledge before you embark on a focused career.

There are various fields of neuroscience one can pursue. I see on your profile that you have expertise in types of epilepsy. For those who may not know, what exactly is epilepsy, and why did you choose that particular field?

Epilepsy is a disease that affects one in twenty-six people at some point in their lifetime and is characterized by repeated seizures. I diagnose epilepsy and help treat people with epilepsy with medications, surgery, and devices. I chose to go into epilepsy because it allows me to work with a wide variety of people (epilepsy affects people of all ages, and it affects men and women and different races about equally) and because it allows me to do a lot of different things. I do research, see patients in the clinic and the hospital, and read EEGs to find abnormalities in the brain waves of people with epilepsy.

What are you currently researching or studying right now?

I am trying to use quantitative analysis of EEG to improve how we plan for surgery in patients with epilepsy that cannot be controlled by medications alone.

What do you hope your contributions to this field will lead to in the future?

I hope that we can have better options for the one-third of patients with epilepsy who have uncontrollable seizures.


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