6 Points on the Laser Spine Institute Fellowship Program

Spine

Before surgeons can become providers at Laser Spine Institute, they must undergo a fellowship program where they learn the group's proprietary procedures. "The fellowship is generally three to six months where the surgeon isn't on staff but is allowed to learn and be part of our team," says Dotty Bollinger, RN, JD, CASC, chief operating officer for Laser Spine Institute. "We believe the way we do endoscopic minimally invasive spine surgery is better than anyone else. We teach and train our surgeons to perform it in a way we think is best."

She discusses six points that have made the fellowship program a success.

1. Training in a proprietary procedure. The spine surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform unique minimally invasive endoscopic procedures, which the group considers proprietary. "We are only training surgeons who will be able to perform the procedures in our surgery centers," says Ms. Bollinger. "One of the biggest misconceptions about our group is that traditional spine surgeons think they know the procedures we perform. They think our procedures have been around for a long time, but they are wrong. Our procedures are proprietary and our medicine is cutting edge. It's not what you can find the surgeon at a community hospital performing."

After surgeons go through the fellowship program and learn Laser Spine Institute's procedures, they cannot use the techniques in other groups.

2. Selecting the right surgeons for the fellowship. The partners at Laser Spine Institute hand-select the surgeons who undergo the fellowship program, and they only choose those who have a high likelihood of success. This means all surgeons in the fellowship program have a strong background in spine or orthopedic surgery. "We've had good luck with orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians because they have endoscopy and arthroscopy experience," says Ms. Bollinger. "We also have two surgeons who trained traditionally in open spine surgery, and they have been very successful in our program as well."

As in any group, it's also important to select new surgeons who will fit in with the established culture of "providing world class medical care in an environment of superior customer service." Laser Spine Institute takes a collaborative approach to its growth by sharing techniques and innovation. "Our group doesn't have some of the competitive feelings that exist in a traditional practice," she says. "The surgeons aren't competing for patient volume with their teammates. The business nature of our practice fosters the fellowship program and continued mentorship."

3. Learning opportunities. Surgeons who are accepted into the fellowship program have a variety of textbook learning opportunities as well as hands-on experience with other surgeons and in cadaver labs. "All of our procedures are taught by experienced surgeons, and eventually the fellow is able to work side-by-side with these surgeons to become part of the procedures," says Ms. Bollinger. "Even when the fellow is ready to perform the procedures alone, a supervising surgeon is accessible at the surgery center or in the OR."

4. Working with a mentor.
When surgeons enter the fellowship program, they are paired with experienced surgeons who act as mentors for the entire time a surgeon practices at Laser Spine Institute. The mentors are available to guide the training surgeon through the training process, sign off on the surgeon at the completion of the program and be available for consultation as the new surgeon progresses in his or her career. The mentors are usually chief surgeons and don't take on more than one trainee at a time.

"There is very little that a training surgeon will come across that the mentor hasn't already seen," says Ms. Bollinger. "The mentor is years and thousands of surgeries ahead of the trainee and advancing his practice at the same time. Additionally, a lot of innovation often comes from these newer surgeons, and they can work with their mentors on those projects. The learning goes both ways."

5. Cadaver lab days.
Laser Spine Institute encourages surgeons to continue learning throughout their careers, and one way the practice supports these efforts is in cadaver labs. "We give our surgeons the opportunity to continue learning by bringing in a cadaver so surgeons can demonstrate different techniques that make the procedures better," says Ms. Bollinger. "There have also been some patent tools developed through the fellowship training, and the inventing surgeons are able to use the labs to teach other surgeons about what they are able to do with their inventions."

The cadaver labs aren't only helpful for the fellows, but also for the most experienced surgeons. "It's an opportunity for the surgeons to collaborate with one another," she says. "Unless surgeons are in the fellowship program, there aren't any other surgeons in the OR with them. These labs allow surgeons to be in the same room together, watch each other perform the procedure and see what they do. The labs aren't mandatory, but surgeons always come because they love the collaborative environment."

6. Compensating fellows.
Many fellowship programs don't compensate fellows at a surgeon salary or offer very little in the way of economic aid to the training surgeons. This lack of compensation is one of the reasons why some surgeons find it tricky to take time away from their practice to learn a new procedure as an experienced surgeon. "It's difficult for established surgeons to find three to six months to learn something new," says Ms. Bollinger. "We are committed to continuous learning and the success of the surgeons in our fellowship program, so we pay the fellows as surgeons while they are completing our program."

This compensation allows surgeons to live at the lifestyle they are accustomed to while going through the fellowship. "We allow the surgeons to focus on the learning opportunity without the financial stress or worry associated with traditional fellowship programs," she says.

Learn more about Laser Spine Institute.

More Coverage of Laser Spin Institute:

Laser Spine Institute Names Dr. Michael Weiss Chairman of Surgery

Laser Spine Institute Opens Albuquerque Facility
Laser Spine Institute Names Jimmy St. Louis as Senior Vice President of Corporate Operations


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