Key career lessons from 4 spine surgeons


Four spine surgeons share the most insightful professional lessons they learned this year.

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 key elements of patient selection for outpatient spine surgery?

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

Question: What is the most important career-related lesson you learned this year?

J. Brian Gill, MD. Spine Surgeon at Nebraska Spine Hospital (Omaha): You are only as good as the last patient that you care for as each patient is unique and offers a different set of certain circumstances. As a physician, I feel pressured to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan quickly. This can sometimes diminish the amount of quality time I can spend with patients. Thus, I try to continue to improve my listening skills and communication skills while demonstrating empathy.

Ali Araghi, DO. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at The CORE Institute (Phoenix): In my last 20 years as a spine surgeon, not only have I reaped the benefits of this career decision, but over the last year it has become clear to me that this indeed was the most important decision of my career, and not just one of patient treatment. This is called 'the acid test' in the jewelry world, and it was taught to me by my fellowship director, Richard Guyer MD. Anytime you have to treat a patient, pretend it is your own family. This will ultimately lead to the wisest and best treatment, regardless of whether it is with respect to surgical or nonsurgical decisions, patient communication or even certain financial decisions within the practice. Simply put: patient-centric care.

Rob D. Dickerman, DO, PhD. Director of Neurosurgery at Presbyterian Hospital of Plano (Texas) and Director of Spine Surgery at Medical Center Frisco (Texas): Adapting to change is inevitable.

Payam Farjoodi, MD. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center (Fountain Valley, Calif.): To maintain focus on what we all know is the most important thing in our profession: taking excellent care of patients. We are too often distracted by the busy work of medicine: administrative tasks like filling out forms etc., as well as doing peer-to-peer challenges of our patient care plans and dealing with hospital forms. These are increasingly a necessary evil of our profession, but shouldn't take away from keeping our patients' best interests in mind and doing everything we can to assure them the best possible outcomes.

Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Founder of the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Trust but verify. And also find it out for yourself. We are in the process of changing billers, and a mistake that started many years ago was carried forward for eight years in terms of one of our agreements with a payer. It cost us somewhere over $10,000-$20,000 and maybe more. We are rectifying it, thankfully, but it was not until we were ready to move on that we found this problem.



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