2 neurosurgeons offer advice for physicians considering a career in spine

Written by Alan Condon | June 24, 2019 | Print  |

Mark McLaughlin, MD, and Rafe Sales, MD, discuss the difficult challenges facing medicine and provide their advice for young physicians considering a career in spine. 

Question: What advice would you offer to younger physicians considering a career in spine?

Rafe Sales, MD. Co-Medical Director of the Spine Center at Providence Brain and Spine Institute in Portland (Ore.): I still believe that a career in spine surgery is the best career path for young surgeons and physicians. Being a spine surgeon has allowed me a wonderful balance of providing excellent care for my patients, being financially stable and having a life outside of medicine. Without question there are difficult challenges facing all of medicine, but spine care still provides wonderful opportunities for research, clinical practice, product development and family life. I would choose the same path without question if given the opportunity again. As a young spine provider, I would look for practice opportunities that fit your life goals, whether that be academic practice, private practice, or a research based career. There are many wonderful opportunities in the field of spine, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Mark McLaughlin, MD. Neurosurgeon at Princeton Brain and Spine Care in New Jersey: There is always opportunity for talented, thoughtful, well-rounded spine surgeons. If it's your passion, then follow it. But watch out for burnout. I recently wrote an article for Business Insider about this insidious affliction and how I help avoid it. Here’s a synopsis of my tips.

Burnout, simply put, is exhaustion and an inability to cope that affects people in the helping professions, such as physicians, therapists and nurses. But it also hits people who don't have official titles but who nonetheless suffer from overload due to caring for a family member or friend.  

I've found there are four ways to help alleviate that feeling of stagnation, even withdrawal from the things that once were enjoyable. One is partnerships with people who serve as mentors or advisors, people whose judgment you trust. These are the people you call when you have to talk something over, when you need a lifeline. Productive pauses, introduced to me by my life coach Jim Harshaw, are short periods of time when you study specific questions. These breaks in the day are calming and lead to answers. Or as I have said, it's creating your own green room in your mind. You can't always be performing; you must have some offstage time.

Another somewhat under-appreciated quality to help escape the heat of burnout is curiosity. It's learning about a new topic, having conversations with people you may not agree with but whose viewpoints can be illuminating. It's also listening to podcasts on new subjects.  It's all about challenging your thinking so you don't get stale. Finally, stewardship is an invaluable gift to give, to have. It's sharing your knowledge, coaching kids in sports, paying it forward in all aspects of your life.

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