Anh-Thu Vu, MD, is a neurologist practicing in Center City Philadelphia. She specializes in movement disorders. Dr. Vu is board certified in neurology, and she has a clinical interest in botulinum toxin for the treatment of dystonia, and deep brain stimulation.
When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?
I had decided on medicine when I was in college. I wanted to do something that I found challenging. I thought about other careers, but medicine had so many great patient stories. I was interested in the stories of real people, so I knew it was something that would never be boring.
How did you decide to focus on neurology?
I actually made the decision about neurology even before I decided on medicine. My undergraduate degree is in psychology. I read a book by Oliver Sacks titled The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I thought it was really interesting because it didn't just focus on science but brought medicine to life through people and their stories. This is how I found neurology. I decided to do a master's degree in neuroscience at Tulane University and from there knew for sure that I wanted to pursue neurology in medical school.
What do you specialize in treating?
My subspecialty in neurology is movement disorders. The bulk of my patients are people living with Parkinson's disease, which is not just a brain disease. It affects the whole body, so we treat those symptoms too, including things like constipation, urinary issues and lightheadedness when standing up. We look at the patient comprehensively and often become their medical home.
What are the biggest challenges people living with Parkinson's disease face?
I think that a lot of the challenge comes with the impairment of day-to-day activities. These are things that they found very easy to do before, but with Parkinson's disease they become more challenging. For example, the patient may have previously been more active, but now they find it difficult to do those activities that they enjoy. If they enjoyed things like golfing or knitting, they may still be able to do those things if their medications are adjusted just right. However, it might get harder to do those things over time.
How do you help them overcome these challenges?
The treatment of Parkinson's disease—and all movement disorder diseases— is very individualized. No two people are bothered by the same things. They're not affected by the same symptoms and their responses to medications can be very different. Because of this, everyone has an individualized treatment plan, and it can require a lot of adjustment of different medications in order to find the right fit.
Additionally, I prefer more of a holistic approach, because treatment is far more than medications. I incorporate things like physical therapy, and I ask patients what they like to do. I involve their families and I encourage them to exercise and join community programs like dance, boxing, and yoga classes. It's also great to join support groups and meet others who are going through similar experiences. Psychiatric care is also important. It's about taking a complete view of the person to provide comprehensive treatment.
What do you find rewarding about this work?
I like that I get to establish long-term relationships with my patients. People can have this disease for decades. One of the joys of this job is that we get to interact with people and be with them through this journey. It's rewarding to see that you can help people. Even if you can't fix everything, at least you can make some part of their life a little bit better or even just be there for them by listening.
How do you like working at the Drexel Neurosciences Institute?
It's been nothing but wonderful. I have great colleagues. We share similar ideals and put a lot of value in teaching and education. Having colleagues who are on the same page is wonderful. I love working with Dr. Jill Farmer. She is an inspiration to me in what she does for patient care in this area and how she has grown the movement disorders division. I'm really proud to be part of that.
How do you like living in Philadelphia?
I've been with Drexel Medicine since September 2018, but I was previously familiar with the Philadelphia area since I did my training at Penn. Philadelphia has become my home now. I came back here because my husband is here, but I've always really liked it. It has a great food scene and so many things to do.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?
I try to live up to the expectations I put on my patients, so I do try to work out regularly. I go to dance classes, usually ballet or modern dance, at least once a week. I love food, so I often cook and bake at home. I've also made it my goal to get to the top 50 restaurants in Philadelphia, even if it's an everchanging list.