Behind every great surgeon: 8 spine surgeons discuss their most memorable mentors

Written by Anuja Vaidya | May 11, 2015 | Print  |

Here, eight spine surgeons discuss the people in their professional and personal lives who have influenced and mentored them.

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 book and/or authors have influenced your career the most?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at by Wednesday, May 13, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: Who would you say is/was your mentor?


Thomas Errico, MD, Chief, Spine Division, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York: Mentorship is critically important to anyone's Erricocareer. I personally have had many important people who contributed to my success either by example, direct advice or most importantly both. Professionally, my chairman of orthopedics during my residency and early years of practice, Theodore Waugh, MD, was very instrumental in guiding me into an academic career. My primary mentor and director of my fellowship program, John Kostuik,MD,was a constant source of support and someone I tried to emulate.  


Joseph Ransohoff, MD, chairman of neurosurgery at NYU, during my early years of practice was incredibly helpful and supportive of me as a young orthopedic spine surgeon. He was ahead of his time in many things but clearly not bound by the classic neuro versus ortho mentality of the day. Lastly although we are contemporaries my current chairman, Joseph Zuckerman, MD, has set high standards for all of us in our department but more importantly leads by example. Our partnership has been a form of mutual mentorship that I believe has benefited both of us.


KubeRichard Kube, MD, Founder, CEO, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute, Peoria, Ill.: It is hard to pick just one. It really depends upon what stage of my life I consider. Certainly, in my youth, it would be my father. He taught me hard work, perseverance, generosity, honesty and the value of being a principled individual. He encouraged me to compete with myself, which does not sound like much, but if you compete with others, they essentially set your limits. If you compete with yourself, your imagination is your only limit, and he taught me to imagine a lot.


During training, it would be Dr. Richard Holt.  He has the best hands I have ever seen and he freely taught everything he knew from his vast experience. He was ethical and thoughtful and beyond forming me into the clinician I am today, he inspired me to think beyond the walls of my practice and consider ways I can impact the field of spine surgery.


Finally, for business leadership, it would be Nicolas Kernene. He has a diverse background as a mathematician, inventor and strategic planner. His experience performing due diligence for Fortune 500 companies and managing people has really provided me with wisdom and management style beyond my personal experience. He has shown me how to interpret situations and the impact that careful use of language elements can bring into any business situation. There are clearly many who have helped to shape me into who I am today, but these three deserve a lot of the credit.


Walter Eckman, MD, Aurora Spine Center, Tupelo, Miss.: Drs. Sanford Larson, Hugh Barr and John Girvin.


WangJeffrey C. Wang, MD, Co-director, USC Spine Center, Keck Medicine of USC, Los Angeles: I have had the fortunate ability to work with several great mentors over my lifetime who have helped to shape me as a surgeon, academician and family man. Perhaps the one person who has had the most influence on my professional life was the late Edgar G. Dawson, MD. He was a compassionate educator and expert spine surgeon, who provided mentorship in all areas of life.


He showed me how to treat patients with compassion and to communicate with them to convey a high level of understanding. He also showed me how to balance a surgeon's lifestyle and long hours of hard work, with appropriate respect for one's family. I could never articulate the impact he has had on my life and my family, and I still follow many of his teachings today. I think that one keeps one's legacy alive by passing on to others a life's knowledge. Long after our individual names are long forgotten, the knowledge itself retains its true value.


Dilip K. Sengupta, MD, Texas Back Institute (Plano): Dr. Richard D. Guyer is my mentor.


Phil Benton, MD, JD, Southern Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine (Pensacola Fla.): Without question my mentor was Dr. Ian Macnab of Toronto, Ontario. I was fortunate to be accepted as a "special fellow in spinal surgery" by Dr. MacNab during my elective months as chief resident in orthopedic surgery at the Georgia Baptist-Scottish Rite program in Atlanta. What I learned in those few months became at least 80 percent of the basic spinal knowledge I used for the next 30-plus years as an orthopedic spinal surgeon.  


I also am privileged to know other MacNab Fellows, who come from all over the world, who meet annually as the MacNab Orthopedic Research Society for academic exchange and fellowship.  


At the time of his death we were putting Dr. Macnab forward for knighthood, with the endorsement of every major orthopedic society in the English-speaking world.  Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher lingered too long and knighthood is not awarded posthumously. No one influenced my life and that of many spinal surgeons more than Ian Macnab.Anand


Neel Anand, MD, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Director, Spine Trauma, Cedars-Sinai Spine Center (Los Angeles): I've had many mentors including Professor D. D. Tanna at the University of Mumbai. He once told me that if you set your mind to it, anything can be done. Drs. David Helfet and Oheneba Boachie-Adjei of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York have also been mentors.


ty-thaiyananthanGowriharan "Ty" Thaiyananthan, founder of BASIC (Newport Beach, Calif.): The typical and expected answer to who was/is my mentor would be the remarkable group of individuals who I trained under and with during residency and fellowship. No doubt they have had a profound and deep impact on me as a physician and for their contributions, I will forever be indebted.  

The realistic and probably not expected answer is that the surgeon that I am today has really been mentored by my partners at BASIC and the patients who over the years have allowed me to refine and improve my practice as a spine surgeon. I have to acknowledge the humbling experiences and insight that many of my patients have given me. It's because of them that our practice shifted away from fusion surgery to a focus on minimally invasive, motion preservation and outpatient procedures.  

My partners, including the other surgeons, pain doctors and chiropractors that are part of BASIC, have been mentors by expanding my perspective of spine care from just that of a surgeon to truly realizing the healing modalities in interventional care and physical and wellness programs. I am grateful to my partners for pushing the boundaries of technical surgery and spinal medicine without losing sight that this must be always tempered with the humility of acknowledging our own limitations. I am grateful for these mentors showing me that multispecialty care is better than one doctor. My patients and my partners have been my real life mentors.

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