The best non-clinical advice for spine surgeons


Four spine surgeons discuss the key non-clinical lessons they have learnt over the course of their career.

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.


Next week's question: What are the biggest innovations in spinal deformity care in the last 5 to 10 years?


Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at by Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: What are the most important non-clinical lessons you learnt during your career?


Vladimir Sinkov, MD. Spine Surgeon at New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center (Nashua): The most important and hardest lesson for me was finding the proper balance between work and family life. It is easy to get sucked in into long hours of work early in the career as you are just trying to build your practice, learn new operative techniques and market yourself. A spine surgeon's life is stressful, and it is important to find an outlet and enjoy life sometimes. Make sure to make time for what is important for you outside of the clinic and the operating room. It will make you a better person and a happier, better clinician.  


Gerardo Zavala II, MD. Director of Spine Surgery at St. Luke's Baptist Hospital (San Antonio): It takes a village. Often in medicine, and in particular surgery, a surgeon has developed a strong sense of individuality to survive medical school, internship and residency. We as surgeons need to let others help us.


Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Founder of the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Three things — first, connect with your patients and your referring doctors. Second, talk things out. Whether you are dealing with patients, families or your colleagues, words — and I mean spoken words — work best. In an era of texting, emails and Twittering, the subtle interpersonal interactions and body language can defuse nasty situations, make hard conversations easier and impart confidence in your abilities to others. Third, engage the staff and get to know your scrubs and circulators. Go to the holiday party and get together, unwind. When you show your human side it is remarkable how much more comfortable the staff will be around you, and how much further they are willing to go to help you get your cases done and get you home.  


Richard Kube, MD. Founder and CEO of Prairie Spine & Pain Institute (Peoria, Ill.): There have been several. I think the greatest have been communications and strategic planning. We need to consider what we are saying and how people hear us when we speak or write. I try to educate staff regarding what I feel is important and try to tailor my messages to the situation. Tone can be used to create desired effect as much as the content of the message itself. Getting out of my own head and really trying to hear the message from other vantage points has helped me communicate and in turn negotiate or debate a position.  


Strategic planning has improved with the accumulation of experience dealing with people. It is a lesson that is ongoing and never ending. I am always learning from people by seeing how they act and react in certain situations. It helps to anticipate, which enhances one's ability to strategically plan whether it is a purely business development issue or whether it is a patient in a challenging situation I am trying to manage. Both instances require patience and the ability to look past one's self and try to see what it is the other person desires and try to provide it for him or her. These lessons will continue to be learned throughout the rest of my life.


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