Chief of neurology, Methodist University Hospital; President, Wesley Neurology Clinic
When neurologist Tulio Bertorini came to Memphis 36 years ago to teach at the University of Tennessee, he and his wife, Emma, found this mid-sized city in the Mid-South to be a difficult adjustment.
He was born in and studied in his native Peru’s largest city, Lima, along the Pacific Coast. After earning his medical degree at the University of San Marcos in Peru, his first stops in the United States were Baltimore, Washington and Boston. The doctor liked having the ocean nearby, and those cities were somewhat more cosmopolitan than Memphis.
“But it’s getting there,” Bertorini said. “The city grew on me and my wife. We raised our kids here and became attached.”
The doctor with the Italian ancestry and Peruvian roots fit in quite nicely in Memphis, where he specializes in neuromuscular disease. He is president and senior partner at Wesley Neurology Clinic. The clinic has five locations in Shelby County and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.
Bertorini is chief of neurology at Methodist University Hospital and co-director of its neurology training program, as well as co-director of UTHSC’s neurophysiology fellowship program. He also is director of the Memphis MDA Clinic and the Mid-South MDA/ALS Clinic.
The idea of helping people and healing people snagged him early in high school and never has let go. His father, a teacher and school principal, was a voluntary administrator at a charity hospital, and young Bertorini, who liked to read medical stories, was a volunteer there.
He quickly was attracted to neurology.
“Understanding the brain was challenging,” he said. “I was a neuroanatomy instructor while in medical school, and understanding the nervous system was very fascinating. Not much to offer patients then, but it’s much better now.”
A conversation with Bertorini frequently returns to the theme of helping others, even as, at age 67, he is asked about retirement – whenever it comes.
“The thought of retirement is always there,” he said. “But I might feel empty. I want to write more, teach and help people.”
The doctor has published more than 150 papers on neuromuscular disorders, in addition to writing and editing three books and several book chapters. He also has been involved with teaching throughout his career. Bertorini remains the acting chair of neurology at UT.
Staying diversified is one of the most satisfying aspects of his job.
“We’ve created a solid group (at Wesley Neurology Clinic) while maintaining patient care and teaching as well as research,” he said. “I created my own muscle histology laboratory, which is challenging.”
Among the awards Bertorini has received is the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, as chosen by his students, and for the past 17 years he has been elected by his peers for inclusion in Best Doctors in America®. He also has been listed in Top Doctors.
His desire to give back extends well beyond Memphis. In recent years he has turned his attention to his home country. He is dedicated to helping boost funding for his medical school, the San Fernando Medical School of San Marcos University. He has been able to aid the indigents of Peru via mission work through the Peruvian Medical Association; together, they have opened a clinic for indigents in Bertorini’s hometown.
“I want to continue to help the poor here and in Peru,” he said.
But, as his fellow doctors are aware, taking on multiple projects and responsibilities makes it a challenge “to maintain an equilibrium without the sacrifice of my family.”
Bertorini and his wife of more than 40 years have three children, none of whom followed their father into the practice of medicine.
“But they are caring, giving, compassionate and very honest and hard workers,” he said. Still, he added, “I hope my grandchild and some of the future ones go into medicine.”
Looking back on his career, if he has any regrets, it would be not being more involved in clinical research and “not finding a cure for so many diseases.”
Perhaps that fundamental desire of many of those who go into medicine is reflected in the namesake of the Wesley Neurology Clinic. John Wesley was the Anglican cleric and Christian theologian of the 18th century who is credited, along with his brother, for founding Methodism. Although not a doctor, Wesley started clinics for the poor, invented cures for some of the diseases he had and wrote a book on medicinal cures.
When he does eventually wind down his career, Bertorini says he won’t miss the weekend and night calls.
“I wish I had more time for my family and to travel,” he said.
A lifelong soccer player, the doctor still plays competitively.
“I love sports,” he said. “I want to continue playing soccer, swimming and reading non-medical books such as novels and history books.”
And, of course, continue helping people.