By Nancy McCann
Editor’s note: Welcome to our new blog series! “Off Campus” is where you’ll discover what our amazing Research Institute employees do for fun, recreation, and the good of their communities once they leave the city behind. And if you know someone in your department or lab with a fascinating hobby or interest, we’d like to hear about it!
In the clinical and research facilities of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dan Licht, MD, shares his medical skills and intellect as a pediatric neurologist, director of the Wolfson Family Laboratory for Clinical and Biomedical Optics, and co-principal investigator for the Biomedical Optical Devices to Monitor Cerebral Health, a new CHOP Frontier Program. But at work day’s end, this physician scientist hangs up his lab coat, grabs his binoculars and camera, and heads outside in search of feathered friends.
“Bird-watching started as part of my enjoying a long walk to clear my head. Most of my best grant ideas have come from these long walks — some of which I forget before I get home,” Dr. Licht said with a smile. “The John Heinz is one of my favorite places to bird-watch. They have a very good educational center, and they run bird-watching tours every weekend. I tagged along on one of those tours and was hooked.”
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few freshwater estuaries on the East Coast and a major pit stop for the migrating winter waterfowl and spring warblers from South and Central America, he explained.
“There’s a pair of nesting bald eagles, and if you get up very early you can, if lucky, catch glimpses of mink or river otters that live there year-round,” Dr. Licht enthused.
“I really love what I do, and most of my travel is because of what I do,” Dr. Licht said.
Barcelona, Mexico City, and Berlin, are a few foreign locations he’s experienced on the job. Most recently, Dr. Licht joined other CHOP Division of Neurology staff on a volunteer medical trip to Tanzania, Africa. Since 2010, Michael Rubenstein, MD, an adult neurologist here at CHOP, has been arranging these biannual humanitarian trips with the Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME), an organization focused entirely on advancing quality medical care in rural Tanzania.
“We see pediatric and adult neurology patients, and since FAME is also a small hospital, we see in-patients too,” Dr. Licht said. “I went for the first time in March and will be going back yearly — it was life-changing.
“At CHOP, we have all the most advanced resources and can get an MRI or genetic testing, at the asking. In Tanzania, you have almost no resources, and you have to weigh how you approach a patient given where they live, their personal resources, and what they will be able to continue when we leave.”
Dr. Licht not only brings along an ophthalmoscope and stethoscope on his world travels, but also binoculars and his camera with a 200-500mm lens are carefully packed as well.
Though for the beginner birder, a good pair of binoculars is all that’s needed.
“Just start with a walk,” he suggested. “Stop frequently to tune your ears to the sounds, and tune your eyes to all the different types of movement that occur in the forest. There is a sort of meditation quality to it.”