Dr. Cortese received her medical degree summa cum laude (1994) and completed a neurology residency (1998) from the Universita de Roma Tor Vergata, Rome. She went on to a three year Penates Fellowship in neuroimmunology, Montrone Foundation. After completion of her fellowship, Dr. Cortese elected to repeat her neurology residency in the U.S. in order to become Board certified in the U.S. She completed her ECFMG certification and was accepted to the Neurology Residency program at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Following residency, she was accepted to the Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital; this fellowship was carried contemporaneous to a part-time Clinical Neuroimmunology Fellowship at NIH. In 2006 she became board certified in neurology. Following completion of her fellowship in neurophysiology she joined the NINDS full time. In 2008, she became a Staff Clinician. In 2011, she was made head of the Clinical Group in the Neuroimmunology Branch, and in 2013 she was made Director of the then newly established Neuroimmunology Clinic. In 2021 she was appointed Assistant Clinical Investigator and Head of the Experimental Immunotherapeutics Unit.