A combination of a love for science and a desire to bring healthcare to underserved populations inspired Dr. Heston Arnold to pursue a medical career. Now a PGY-3 neurology resident, Dr. Arnold has gained confidence in his skill as he looks toward a future in Movement Disorders and General Neurology. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his co-residents and traveling.
Tell me about your background and how your path led to Vanderbilt.
I grew up with my mom and dad and two sisters in Quality, KY, which is a very small, rural town of about 50 people. I attended the Butler County School system through high school, then moved on to Murray State University for undergrad and University of Kentucky for medical school. Much of what led me to medicine was my rural upbringing and seeing the barriers to healthcare people face in rural settings. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by helping bring healthcare to more underserved populations. That really pushed me into medicine, as well as love for science. It became a natural fit.
What first piqued your interest in neurology?
I have always been interested in the brain, and how it works, and why people do what they do. During my first year of medical school I took a neuroscience course. We were learning about neuroanatomy and localizing the pathology of the neurological system. I loved the concept of that, which is something unique to neurology. Something I still love about neurology is being able to identify where in the nervous system something is happening.
What have been some of the greatest challenges of residency? How do you meet those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges of residency is maintaining a work-life balance. The hours are very demanding, so you have to be creative about how to make the most of your time away from work. Our program [at Vanderbilt] does a good job of incorporating resident wellness. One of the ways I've tried to maintain that balance is by being more proactive about focusing my time away from work and using that time well. I make sure that, when I'm home, I'm really utilizing that time to focus on and take care of myself. I try to make plans with friends ahead of time, because things do get really busy during the week and it’s easy to let that time get away.
What aspects of residency have you found most valuable so far?
The most valuable thing for me has been the graduated autonomy toward independence. At the beginning of residency, appropriately so, you’re monitored really closely. But as you move through the [residency] program, you become more independent and start making more decisions. The way we do our call system [here at Vanderbilt] is challenging, but you gain a lot of confidence in yourself as a neurologist. I still have some time left in residency, but I’m moving toward becoming a more independent neurologist. I feel more confident in myself because I've had to make those decisions.
Have you encountered anything in medical school or residency that surprised you?
The thing that has surprised me the most is how close I’ve become to my coresidents. When interviewing for residency programs, you’re always told that the residents are ‘like family,’ and the truth of that is probably variable across programs. But here we hang out multiple times a week outside of work. It says a lot that you’re working with someone so much during the week, and yet you still want to hang out with them on the weekend. I expected us to be close because of work, but I didn’t realize how deep those relationships would go. Those friendships have been really helpful and supportive for sure.
What are your professional plans for the future?
I’m planning on doing a Movement Disorders fellowship, but ultimately I still want to practice a mix of general neurology and Movement Disorders in a more community-based setting. That’s the current plan. I love all of neurology too much to get too specialized, but since I do have a particular interest in Movement Disorders, I’d like to do a mixed model.
How do you like to spend your free time?
As I mentioned before, I spend a lot of time even outside of work with my coresidents. We like to try different restaurants. We get together for board game or movie nights. We like to explore Nashville, and there’s always something new popping up. Taco Mama is one of our go-to spots, especially right after work.
My biggest hobby is traveling. Though that’s challenging during residency, I’ve still been able to do quite a bit. Right before I started residency, I had a trip planned to Alaska, which was canceled [due to COVID]. I was finally able to do that last year, and it’s my favorite state by far. This year I was able to go to Canada, including Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. A couple of coresidents and I are planning a trip to Thailand and Vietnam in the spring. I love experiencing new cultures and seeing different types of scenery, so traveling is my favorite thing to do.
Where do you seek inspiration?
We have really good attendings who like to teach, and I’ve definitely pinpointed a few from whom I’ve drawn inspiration based on the type of neurologist I want to be. Over time I've modeled myself after those particular attendings, and picked their brain on how to approach things. They have been an inspiration for becoming a great neurologist.