Michelle Lorentzos, MBBS, BA Arts in Communications

Psychiatry of Paediatric Movement Disorders

Michelle is currently working as the Epilepsy Fellow at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. She has been undertaking her PhD part time alongside her clinical training since 2011. Michelle started her professional life with a degree in communication and aspirations of working in public policy or health promotion, finding her first job in the Public Relations Department at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. She later worked on the Commonwealth government rollout of Mindmatters, a national project to promote adolescent mental health. These experiences drew her to study clinical medicine and she fell in love with paediatric neurology. Her research examines psychiatric comorbidities in paediatric neurology and allows her to bring all these experiences together.

Interview by Russell Dale


Please give us an overview of your PhD project?

My project aims to describe the psychiatric comorbidities present in children and young people with movement disorders. I am comparing these findings to rates of comorbidities in the general population, as well as children with peripheral neuropathies and epilepsy. We know that children with Tourette syndrome have increased rates of psychiatric comorbidities as do adults with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease. But as for children with chorea, dystonia and myoclonus very little is known about rates of psychiatric comorbidities except for anecdotal suggestions that rates are likely to be increased. My project aims to define and measure the scope of the problem.


Do you think neurologists should get more training in psychiatry?

Hmmm, as someone still in the midst of my neurology training it seems a little presumptuous to advise on what the neurology profession needs. But… yes. Many of the children we see with epilepsy, developmental delay and of course movement disorders also have psychiatric or behavioral problems and often these cause as much if not more morbidity than the neurological diseases themselves. I believe that recognizing and supporting kids with these comorbidities can make a major difference. And I think there’s a window of opportunity during childhood and adolescence because if we can address these issues now it may change the path these younger people find themselves on in the future.


What are the major challenges to research activity in your experience?

I’ve only ever undertaken research part time so my greatest challenge would be protecting my time. Frequently clinical work creeps into the hours I try to set aside for research. From speaking to my colleagues this is a fairly common experience. I have also found the recruitment of healthy controls challenging because it entails approaching people and asking them to partake in a project that does not directly benefit them; and these are often people with which I do not have any relationship. This is vastly different from the doctor-patient setting in which I am used to working – but I’m getting better at it!


If a colleague asks you about doing research, what would you say?

I would say that the experience of research is incredibly valuable – mostly because of the experiences you have in terms of managing your own project and the people you meet. It tests your patience at times. I would absolutely advocate choosing a topic you genuinely want to learn more about and believe to be important – this has kept me encouraged when the work feels overwhelming. I would also say that everything takes four times as long as you think it will. And finally I would say that you should find a supervisor who is interested in your work and your longer-term ambitions, who understands that you have several commitments (because every one does) but who encourages you to keep your research a priority.


You have 3 sentences to sell the best things to do in Sydney. Go!

Does it matter that they all include eating or drinking something?
1. Spend a day in Manly swimming then eating fish and chips and gelato, then take the ferry back to Circular Quay and sip on a cocktail at Opera Bar whilst watching the boats on Sydney Harbour
2. Walk off the fish and chips and gelato you had at Manly by doing the walk from Bondi to Bronte, then relax with a good book and a coffee on the hill at Bronte (the nicest beach in Sydney)
3. Spend an evening in Walsh Bay (the quieter side of Sydney Harbour) starting with drinks and tapas at Firefly then catching a play at The Sydney Theatre Company