The best advice from 4 spine surgeons' younger peers


Career mentorship can be a two-way street where both parties learn from each other. Here is what four spine surgeons have learned from younger physicians in the field.

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. Becker's invites all spine surgeon and specialist responses.

Next week's question: What is an investment all spine practices should make?

Please send responses to Carly Behm at by 5 p.m. CDT Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What's the best lesson you've learned from a spine surgeon younger than you?

Nitin Bhatia, MD. UCI Health (Orange, Calif.): At the UC Irvine Spine Center, we are fortunate to have surgeons at various time points along their respective careers. Currently, our eight surgeons represent both orthopedic surgery and including age ranges from 30 years old to more than 60 years old. While the older surgeons have more experience, all of our physicians learn from each other on a daily basis, and having this diversity allows a sharing of skills, techniques and experiences that otherwise may get missed in smaller or more compartmentalized programs.

Specifically, the best lesson I learned from a spine surgeon younger than me was that the younger surgeons often look to the senior surgeons for advice in and out of the operating room but may not know how to ask for it. As an older surgeon in the practice, it is my duty and privilege to create an environment of open communication and mutual respect. Such an environment allows the younger surgeons to actively ask questions without the fear of judgment, and it allows them to provide advice to older surgeons without feeling intimidated. The fact is, all of us can learn from other surgeons, no matter what our age or their age. By creating open, healthy communication, we will all do better.

Brian Gantwerker, MD. The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Some of my younger peers are keenly focused on social media presence. The single best lesson I got is that you have to be "out there" to be relevant. My caveat for that is to avoid being a self-parody. Certain media channels generate clicks, likes and clout but end up beclowning the physician. I plan on being host of a no-frills podcast and have the occasional guest host, in an accompaniment of sorts from my private practice monthly feature in our state society. The worst things I have seen have been surgeons trying too hard on social media and not being themselves, but rather a cartoony version.

Philip Schneider, MD. The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics (Bethesda, Md.): The most valuable lesson I have learned from younger spine surgeons is the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. During my residency, we were accustomed to being on call every other night and then every night as a fellow. These experiences influenced my approach in private practice, where I have maintained a similar workload. Although I found it fulfilling — and still do — I've more recently recognized the value in taking more time off for myself and not stressing about having every OR slot filled. While I remain busy, I've discovered a more sustainable balance that allows me to succeed in my spine practice and enjoy life outside of work. 

Christian Zimmerman, MD. St. Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): Younger surgeons can impart a different set of surgical skills to their veteran and usually inflexible counterparts. While many remnants of "old school" practice politics remain, workplace culture can be enhanced and improved with newer and diverse ideas and practice methods. Young surgeons can initiate and pioneer new workplace mindsets like minimally invasive surgical techniques and perspectives associated with technology and computational skills. The younger surgical workforce is the most training-diverse in history and can help workplace culture meet the expectations of modern society by being good ambassadors and helping "veteran employees" buy in.

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