Hugo Botha, M.B., Ch.B.

What attracted you to neurology?

My love for science, particularly neuroscience, meant that I was always planning on going into a biological field. It was primarily the challenge of arriving at a diagnosis through carefully interviewing and examining a patient, backed up by a thorough understanding of the human body, that drove me to do medicine.

Given my interest in understanding the brain, I was immediately drawn to neurology once I realized how much we can learn about the brain from disease states. It soon became clear that a neurologist is faced with as many biomedical questions as they are philosophical ones.

Patients and families afflicted with a neurological disease become abruptly aware that their memories, personality and intellect depend on a functioning brain. Their struggles emphasize the fragility of our mental and emotional lives and force one to contemplate the nature of consciousness and personhood.

The intellectual satisfaction of localizing a lesion or process and solving a complicated case, as well as advancing our understanding of the brain, might have been what drew me to neurology initially, but it was the intersection of science and philosophy and the unique challenges neurologists face in clinical practice that ultimately convinced me.

What attracted you to Mayo Clinic for residency training?

About midway through medical school in South Africa, I started reading everything related to neurology I could get my hands on and began exploring training opportunities in various countries.

Serious interest in Mayo Clinic started when I read "Fifty Neurologic Cases From Mayo Clinic." It sparked an investigation into Mayo's history, philosophy about patient care and the reasons for the extraordinary reputation of its neurology department.

I spent the following three years dreaming about completing my neurology residency at Mayo Clinic, a daunting challenge that later proved to be one of the richest experiences of my life. After I completed an away rotation in neurology at Mayo at the start of final year, I knew it was the only place I wanted to do residency.

What makes the Mayo Clinic Adult Neurology Residency unique?

There are several things that stand out. I can't imagine any program matching the diverse range of pathology offered by the combination of local patients with common neurologic problems and those who have come to Mayo in the hope of finding an answer to their exceedingly rare presentation.

At an institutional level, the unwavering commitment to providing the best possible patient care is contagious, and I constantly feel driven to improve. The size of the neurology department also means that not only is every subspecialty represented, but there is a passionate faculty member for almost every group of disorders within a subspecialty.

But I think the most unique and impressive thing about the program is the dedication to teaching. From one-on-one bedside pearls to the excellent didactic sessions, the daily lunch conferences, and the plethora of archived case discussions, it's impossible not to gain a deep understanding of the field. The teaching also goes beyond neurology, as we all benefit from close mentorship on career decisions.

Anything surprise you about Mayo's program?

I've been most surprised by the research opportunities. Given the fact that Mayo doesn't have a large university associated with it, I had been uncertain about the translational research opportunities as well as ones in less clinically oriented areas, such as functional MRI (fMRI).

However, in little more than a year, I've gotten involved in several projects of exactly the sort I had worried might be lacking here. Faculty members are always open to involving residents in their projects or helping them start their own. There is ample research time, and the department provides so much support from project initiation, where residents have access to statisticians and data experts, all the way to publication and presentation, with media support services.

The open and collaborative environment means that residents and fellows often work together too. Mayo's dedication to resident research means that all of us have plenty of opportunities to present at national meetings, and most projects lead to publications.

What is living in Rochester, Minn., like for you?

It's safe to say that I'm not a fan of snowy winters, having grown up in a region where snow only ever fell on the mountaintops and if it did, it was newsworthy enough for the front page. But the winters have been surprisingly uneventful, and I'm slowly learning to enjoy the unique outdoor activities on offer during them.

The city itself is evolving rapidly, and I've noticed several new restaurants and shops that have opened since my visit as a student. Furthermore, it's a very easy place to live, with a relatively low cost of living, an incredibly low crime rate and no traffic. I hadn't realized how comfortable I had it until I visited some friends on the East Coast!

The diverse backgrounds of the physicians add another flavor, and I've made friends from just about every continent. And when you feel like you need something different, the Twin Cities are only 80 miles away.

What does your future look like right now?

I'm planning on doing a behavioral neurology fellowship and pursuing a career in academic neurology. With rapid advancement in the field and the potential treatments on the way for several of the neurodegenerative diseases, it's a very exciting time to be going into behavioral neurology.

Mayo has long been one of the top behavioral groups, and the caliber of projects available to residents here is unbeatable. I couldn't be happier.

Feb. 10, 2014