Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang takes the helm of the North American Spine Society — 5 Qs on what to expect in 2019

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |

At the 2018 North American Spine Society Annual Meeting, Jeffrey C. Wang, MD, was named president of the organization for 2018–2019.


Dr. Wang is the co-director of the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC and a professor of orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles. Here are Dr. Wang's thoughts on the evolution of the spine field and where NASS is headed.

Question: What is your vision for NASS in 2019? What initiatives will you focus on and what should members expect?

Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang: I have two major goals: one is to re-invent the annual meeting, and the other is to impact the direction of NASS over the next year. The meeting is currently an event with education, research and awards, but I think people in the spine realm, whether you are a surgeon or non-surgeon, make it a focal point of their year. It's a networking event, a place to meet with friends, fellows and colleagues. It is also a business meeting between surgeons and device companies.

It's a great meeting, but I'd like to see the educational aspect of it improved. NASS is a multidisciplinary organization, and although the annual meeting is a great gathering point, some members would like to see more defined surgical content while others would like more nonsurgical content. NASS has always been multidisciplinary and in trying to appease everyone by mixing the content, it hasn't quite met the needs of either group.

Q: What changes are you planning for the 2019 meeting in Chicago?

JW: I have huge changes planned for the meeting next year. We are going to have the most cutting-edge topics, complex and contemporary surgical novel technologies, difficult patient scenarios and hands-on surgical technique courses, making the surgical educational content unparalleled. I have commitments from leading spine surgeons nationally and internationally to help make the meeting more contemporary. If you are a surgeon, which comprises the majority of our membership, then I think you will find the meeting is impacted for the better. It has grown and evolved, and it will be the best surgical meeting in the world.

But we aren't ignoring the nonoperative physicians and specialists. I have two surgeons who are program chairs and three program chairs who are nonoperative. There is going to be content at the meeting for everyone.

I think by actively providing specific content and not forcing a mix of operative and nonoperative content, we will meet the needs of all our membership. It won't be completely divided though — there will still be opportunities to mix content when appropriate.

Q: What types of educational opportunities are you expanding?

JW: We are going to have more hands-on cadaver courses and workshops that will allow people to learn the latest techniques. We are going to have didactic sessions on complex surgical techniques that will help make surgeons better. We will broadcast large surgeries on the cadaver in live sessions. It's not just isolated to the cadaver lab or lecture hall. You can use the cadaver-based lectures to supplement the workshops. There will be other things we can do for hands-on workshops as well for nonoperative physicians.

Q: Where do you see NASS growing under your leadership?

JW: I want to see the international activities of NASS grow. There is a large percentage of new membership growing internationally. If we are going to meet the needs of those members, we have to consider their unique situations. We are doing around 10 to 12 educational events in the U.S. each year but are doing more than 70 internationally. International is a huge part of our educational mission.

In the U.S., we take for granted that there are board certifications and standardized educations for surgeons and interventionalists. A lot of countries around the world are looking to NASS for setting guidelines for treatment and evidence on new technology.

Many of those other countries are also looking for us to distinguish their specialists. We aren't a certifying body, but we can grant distinctions like we do in the U.S. if they go through educational events.

Domestically, I want to continue to be an advocate for all spine providers. We have to have a voice for spine practitioners and collaborate with all societies to drive initiatives in the appropriate way, so patients will get the appropriate care. We also need to educate members on what NASS does and the opportunities to become more involved in the organization.

Q: Where do you see the biggest opportunities for spine surgeons to grow their practice in the coming years? How does that differ between surgeons who are just starting their careers versus those who are nearing retirement?

JW: The most significant advances in spine medicine, whether operative or nonoperative, are going to be collaborations with societies and industry in the appropriate manner. We have gone through an evolution on our point of collaboration with industry, but we know collaboration can lead to innovation, as long as it's done appropriately.

We also can't forget about young surgeons. Those of us who have been in spine for years can look back on it from experience, but it's important for young surgeons to understand what appropriate relationships are and cultivate them to become the next leaders. It's important to understand how to disclose those relationships and be transparent, and that there isn't a stigma attached to it. A lot of physicians don't want to deal with disclosures, but there won't be innovation in technology without input from clinicians.

Engineers don't know how an implant goes into the patient or how surgeons need to modify it for use. The practitioner can give insight on their experiences and work with companies to develop future technology.

We also need to make sure future leaders know the landscape of business and politics, as well as how to lead people. We need to do a better job of that in the future. We have leadership development sessions to give surgeons the tools they need to lead a team. We have to identify and cultivate our young surgeons and include them in the leadership of our organization.

More articles on spine surgery:
Dr. Pablo Pazmino: Key thoughts on stem cells & new technology in spine surgery
How a Houston-based spine surgeon plans to optimize direct-to-consumer marketing & other key growth areas
The next 5 years: Where Dr. Todd Chapman sees the biggest challenges & opportunities for spine surgeons just starting out


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