The best advice for a spine surgeon's continuous professional growth


Five spine surgeons share advice for professional growth over the course of one's 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 some key considerations when performing complex spine surgery on older patients?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at by Wednesday, July 11, at 5 p.m. CST.

Question: How can surgeons ensure they continue to grow professionally over the course of their careers?

Vladimir Sinkov, MD. Spine Surgeon at New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center (Nashua): The field of medicine, and especially spine surgery, is definitely not static. The body of knowledge is constantly growing and sometimes changing. One must always be looking for new ways and techniques to achieve better outcomes and patient care. A surgeon needs to stay up-to-date with the newest findings, technologies and techniques. Reading peer-reviewed journals and attending conferences is probably the easiest way to achieve it. Collaborating with colleagues to share from each other's experiences and findings is also invaluable.

A lot of learning and professional growth also comes from personal experiences. Good outcomes and happy patients allow us to remember and reinforce what we did right. Mistakes and complications must never be ignored but always used as a learning opportunity and a way to improve future performance. Someone once told me, a definition of an expert is the one who made all the possible mistakes. While it is a simplification, there is a lot of truth to it. With this much to learn and experience, professional growth will never stop.

Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Founder of the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Just reading journals is not enough. Attending live (or webcast) CME events given by local university practices is a great milieu for the latest in practice, technology and research. Interactions with colleagues are a great source of growth if you have a good relationship with other surgeons in your area.

A. Jay Khanna, MD. Vice Chair of Professional Development and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins Medicine (Baltimore): A deliberate focus on professional growth requires insight, intent, time and opportunity cost (financial and otherwise) on the part of the spine surgeon. Professional growth can come in many forms, including that relating to one's clinical practice, administrative roles, leadership roles, research, innovation and otherwise. Thus, to quote Stephen Covey and one of my mentors, Dr. David Hungerford, I think it helps for spine surgeons 'to begin with the end in mind.' Once this is done and the spine surgeon has a basic understanding of where he or she would like to be in two, five, 10 or more years, he or she can allocate their most valuable resource — time — to develop those areas. Of course it's important to realize that if we're saying 'yes' to something, we're, by definition, saying 'no' to something else, so [we] need to figure out where the time will come from and what we are willing to compromise in exchange for the potential to achieve professional growth.

In terms of specific options for professional growth, one can consider anything ranging from a visit to another surgeon, to a weekend course, to a traveling fellowship, to an advanced degree to a full-on career change within or outside of medicine. Other options include diversification within one's core spine surgical practice via the inclusion of new techniques, teaching, research or innovation to help make things more interesting.

Lastly, I think it always helps to get advice from others whose career one may want to emulate. Another option is to consider working with an executive/professional coach, especially if an individual is considering making a significant career or life change.

Payam Farjoodi, MD. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center (Fountain Valley, Calif.): The continuing evolution of minimally invasive technologies is the most intriguing. With the improvement of navigation, many forms of spine surgery we currently do may be replaced with outpatient procedures with minimal recovery and improved function.

Richard Kube, MD. Founder and CEO of Prairie Spine & Pain Institute (Peoria, Ill.): Avoid complacency. Most physicians are competitive on some level. Keep that competitive fire alive by raising your own bar. I feel that by competing with myself and raising the bar with matters involving life, including medicine, causes me to ask questions. The process of answering questions about myself and my staff helps me to find areas that can be improved, and then we take measures to improve those areas. Always strive for that next mark maintains interest, thirst for knowledge and a desire to take action upon your findings.


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