“Let your patients know that they are not alone in their journey to be healthier” With Dr. Darlene A. Mayo
Let your patients know that they are not alone in their journey to be healthier. As their medical provider, remind them that you are part of their team working with them on their health, and you are there to provide information, resources, and treatment options for them. Encourage them also to join community groups or social media groups of others with their medical condition. Volunteer in those groups, yourself, as a medical provider, to help give high quality information and dispel misconceptions. It is a challenge to thrive when you feel alone. When you have others actively supporting you in this process, it becomes actually hard to fail.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Darlene A. Mayo. Dr. Mayo is a board certified neurosurgeon who specializes in treating patients with essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. She is a celebrated author of the book Stop Spilling Your Soup: The Complete Essential Tremor Solution and is widely sought after as a speaker on her clinical work and her research on use of virtual reality to improve brain function. Dr. Mayo founded AVUCA MD, a consulting business that connects patients to doctors who provide high quality care and helps doctors design thriving practices and avoid physicians burnout.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The ability to heal others is a passion that has been with me since my earliest childhood memories. I remember, as a child, bandaging up my pets to them “feel better”. Then, as a college student at Duke, I shadowed doctors in different fields of medicine. Two things impacted me. The first is the complexity of the brain. We know so little about this amazing organ. I knew I could spend a lifetime learning about it and never know all there is to know. The second is the impact neurological and neurosurgical conditions have on patients and families. I remember spending time talking to the family of a young woman in her fifth month of pregnancy who had just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The only thing we could do at that time was work on a way to help her live until the baby was born. My heart reached out to her and her family. I knew for that moment I would dedicate my life to finding a way to rid the world of diseases so each of us can live a full and fulfilling life.
How have your personal challenges informed your career path?
How to positively impact the health of the greatest number of people has been a challenge I have faced since I began my medical career. My career began in private practice neurosurgery, where I could positively impact the lives of a number of people through consultations in office visits and by performing surgeries. Even at that time, I gave scientific talks to other medical professionals, to allow them to better care for their patients and I spoke at many patient events to better inform people about their treatment choices. After about four years in this type of practice, I felt my impact could be greater. I took two years off from traditional clinical practice to complete two biomedical engineering research fellowships, one in France, and one at Mayo Clinic. During that time I gained skills in scientific research methodology and was blessed to participate in research to help restore the ability to walk in people who had suffered spinal cord injury. This guided my next career move to a high profile academic medical center, Cleveland Clinic, where I not only continued to perform surgery, but I also was given the opportunity to build a research program based on the work I did in my BME fellowships. Because of the breadth of my work there, I was able to positively impact a much greater number of lives, including many indirectly, by advancing science. This position helped me to expand my vision and therefore my capacity to heal by helping me realize I could impact the lives of patients that I would never personally treat. And of this realization was born my first book and my medical consulting company, where I am building clinical, research, and physicians coaching teams that will teach and empower patients, physicians, and researchers to optimize the delivery of healthcare.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other doctors/clinicians/healers to help their patients to thrive?
- Take care of yourself. As healers, our personality and our ethics drive us to put others’ needs ahead of our own. While this is valiant and often valuable, if we do not take care of ourselves, we limit our ability to take care of others. Set aside time every day to attend to your physical needs with good nutrition, exercise and rest, and to your mental, spiritual and emotional needs by connecting with your higher power and sharing your successes and failures, happiness and challenges with loved ones, friends, mentors and others. When you are thriving, you will be able to help your patients thrive.
- Learn something new everyday and teach it to at least one person. Learning inspires and refreshes us, it gives us confidence in our ability to contribute, and it keeps us humble, as we realize that even as an expert in our field, there is more to know.. Teaching what you’ve learned helps to fix it in your memory and serves one of the primary purposes of obtaining knowledge — sharing that knowledge with others. You can help your patients understand a new treatment or their condition. By sharing your new knowledge with other medical providers, the impact of that knowledge becomes exponential.
- Control the things the you can control and let go of the things that are out of your control. When you need to do something to take care of your patient, my motto is “do it now” whenever possible. Medicine is fast paced and the unexpected is more the norm than the exception to daily routines of doctors. Implementing control when it is possible keeps you from becoming overwhelmed and better serves your patients. The flip side of this statement is just as important. As much as we do to prevent it, there are some patients that will die or will not see improvement in their condition. You are a healer, you are not God. Blaming yourself for what is out of your control will distract you from helping the patients whose lives you can positively impact.
- Know and focus on what you want and why you want it. Be open to different ideas about “how” you will accomplish it. As I said earlier, I have known from a very early age that I want to bring healing to the world. I want this because I feel it is my mission, my purpose in life and I have been gifted with the needed talents. For a long time I thought the only way I could do that was through a traditional practice in a hospital setting. I certainly helped a number of people in that way. Now, through my consulting business, my speaking engagements, and my writing, I help infinitely more people. To get to this point, it took a mental shift for me to open my mind to the different possibilities of “how”. The mind is incredibly creative and imaginative. Let it do its best work. Learn to do this in your life and then help your patients to learn this strategy for their own health care goals.
- Let your patients know that they are not alone in their journey to be healthier. As their medical provider, remind them that you are part of their team working with them on their health, and you are there to provide information, resources, and treatment options for them. Encourage them also to join community groups or social media groups of others with their medical condition. Volunteer in those groups, yourself, as a medical provider, to help give high quality information and dispel misconceptions. It is a challenge to thrive when you feel alone. When you have others actively supporting you in this process, it becomes actually hard to fail.
Social media and reality TV create a venue for people to share their personal stories. Do you think more transparency about your personal story can help or harm your field of work? Can you explain?
Social media and reality TV can be wonderful tools to share information with a large number of people in a short time period. That is a benefit that medical providers should not overlook, to raise awareness about certain medical conditions and treatment options, or to share their personal story. Sharing personal stories often helps people understand each other better. It is sometimes a lack of understanding between people or groups that leads to judgments and conflict. The downside to using venues such as social media to share a message can be the lack of personal communication for follow up after a story is shared. As we have all seen numerous times in recent stories, statements shared in these ways can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Misinformation can then be propagated. This becomes dangerous when we are talking about medical care and could, ironically, lead to more judgment and conflict when medical providers share personal stories. Choosing how to share information must be carefully considered by medical providers, whether it is medical information or a personal life story.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant to your life?
One the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from one of my mentors in neurosurgery, Dr. Robert Gross. He taught me to ask myself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I think fear is what limits the accomplishments that each of us can achieve. I thought about this often while I was in clinical neurosurgical practice. Refusing to be afraid is what helped me apply (successfully) for jobs I would not have applied for, it helped me submit (and be awarded) research grants, even when my colleagues had told me the ideas would never work. Most recently, asking myself this question, and its corollary, “What would I do if I thought I couldn’t fail” is what lead me to open my medical consulting business instead of staying with traditional ways of practicing medicine. There are a lot of unknowns still regarding “how” I will reach all the goals I have set. What I know is this: I will achieve the goals I have set to change the way we deliver medical care, to provide an affordable solution for patients to have quality medical care while providing doctors the ability to focus on what we do best: healing. I know this because I chose, not to fear, but to embrace with enthusiasm the idea of “what if?”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The movement I feel most passionate about is people joining together to find ways to maximize the potential of the human brain. The world is so focused today on technology. We look for ways to treat a variety of medical conditions using electronics, and other resources. I, myself, have implanted deep brain stimulators to slow down tremors. I conduct a great deal of research using enhanced reality (virtual reality and augmented reality), simulators, implementing machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence. The current and future technology is simply incredible and will advance both medicine and our daily life in general. However, I think any tech that is developed will pale in comparison to what the human brain can do, if we fully understand and harness its potential.
Our brain is so intricately and wonderfully complex. As scientists and physicians, we understand only a fraction of the way the brain works. We see results sometimes that we cannot understand or explain. Pediatric neurosurgeons can remove essentially half of the brain of a young child in order to help slow down very severe and frequent seizures. Our knowledge of brain anatomy and function would suggest that a child having this operation would then be unable to use one arm and leg, as well as have a number of other physical and cognitive limitations. Yet what we see time and again is that the brain will “re-wire” itself so the child can learn to use their arm and leg, even though the brain cells that control that ability are now “missing”. This is only one of a number of examples of the brain changing the capacity of the body to function. The human brain is the only “machine” I know where its software can cause a change in its hardware. So while I embrace and use new technology, I think we should take a step back, or a step in parallel, and prioritize ways to identify and implement ways to maximize the potential of the amazing brain. With every person on earth functioning at their highest capacity, with their innate gifts and talents, I think what we could accomplish in this world would be beyond our imagination.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I love interacting with patients, other medical professionals and anyone with great ideas through social media! Please follow me, post comments and questions, or just stay in touch:
Facebook pages: AVUCA MD and Help for Tremors