'Love what you do': Career advice from 6 prominent spine surgeons

Written by Anuja Vaidya | February 04, 2016 | Print  |

Here six spine surgeons give advice to young surgeons on the cusp of beginning their careers in the spine industry.

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 some key trends we can expect in the spine industry in 2016?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at avaidya@beckershealthcare.com by Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: What advice do you have for young spine surgeons, just beginning their careers?  


Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I would say get a great lawyer, accountant and business manager before going into private practice or even before you sign any contracts. Call, employment and insurance contracts are sticky quagmires, and you really need someone who will cut through the gaggle of phrases and 'gotchas' and let you know what you are really signing. At the end of the day, if you are not happy, no one is to blame but yourself.  


I have made mistakes, to be sure, particularly not acknowledging red flags when they are sitting up and waving me in the face. It came when I was hell-bent on being in a certain market. Looking back, I should have been more careful and not as gung-ho. I should have also looked around more carefully and put myself in the exact place I wanted to be. Now that I have rectified it, I am making less than I might otherwise, but I can't beat the job satisfaction. Good luck.


Richard Kube, MD, Founder, CEO, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute (Peoria, Ill.): Set appropriate expectations. Many young physicians come out expecting to be busy and take down huge salaries from day one. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was the practice you are about to join. Your training is essentially your admission ticket to the spine surgery world. Like it or not, you now must prove yourself yet again. This all takes work.  


Rest assured however, if you do a good job, work hard and treat your patients, referral sources and customers — who can choose to go elsewhere (and believe me they can) — well, you should earn their trust and hence their business. Form a relationship with your staff. They can make your life easy or hard depending on how you interact with them. Always remember that every referral source you have used to send their patients somewhere else before you arrived. You need to figure out what advantage you provide that referral source and sell that quality to them. You are doing nothing short of changing a paradigm.


Thomas A. McNally, MD, Medical Director, Chicago Spine Center at Weiss Memorial Hospital: The advice I would give a young spine surgeon is the same advice I would give any physician: remain focused on the patient. When you go into the practice of medicine, you have the expectation that you'll have the opportunity to care for patients throughout your career. Career satisfaction comes from the knowledge that you helped patients feel better and stay healthier as they age.


When surgeons remain focused on patient care and outcomes, it's easier to deal with the other aspects of the practice of medicine, such as healthcare reform and the business of healthcare that sometimes seems to get in the way. Spine surgeons should always remember why they went into medicine: the patient. This focus will sustain them throughout their careers.


Purnendu Gupta, MD, Spine Surgeon, NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute (Evanston, Ill.): Love what you do and strive to do the best job you can do. Don't focus on the pressures of the job and barriers to healthcare. You can lose perspective. Focus on the patient and why you became a spine surgeon — to help people. Remembering why you do what you do will get you back on track when you face challenges in your career in the seemingly ever-changing healthcare environment.


Amir Vokshoor, DISC Sports & Spine Center (Marina del Rey, Calif.): Focus on evolving clinical and surgical skills, attain proficiency in the operating room as well as gain trust at the bedside by honing your skills. Lay a foundation for organizational structure of your future practice, your goals and associated needs such as networking with colleagues, hospital administrators, researchers and collaborators.


Neel Anand, MD, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Director, Spine Trauma, Cedars-Sinai Spine Center (Los Angeles): Have a passion for medicine and enjoy it. It is a great field, but you must have passion.


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