Epilepsy surgeon, OBGYN & more: 5 spine surgeons discuss different career paths they were considering

Written by Alan Condon | November 27, 2019 | Print  |

Five spine and neurosurgeons discuss different career paths they were considering pursuing in medical school.

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: Social media is becoming increasingly popular among physicians. Do you use social media professionally? If so, what are the impacts you have noticed? 

Please send responses to Alan Condon at acondon@beckershealthcare.com by Wednesday, Dec. 4, 5 p.m. CST.

Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.

Question: If you didn't pursue a career in spine, what medical specialty would you have chosen, and why?

James Chappuis, MD. Spine Center Atlanta: I would have chosen to be a fertility specialist — OBGYN with a subspecialty in fertility — because I am fascinated by in-vitro fertilization and where it will lead us to in the next decade. It's possible to "design" a person and I find this incredibly interesting.

Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I had originally wanted to be an epilepsy surgeon. It was the most impactful cranial specialty and my first love in neurosurgery. I had the opportunity to be a medical student with Rich Byrne, MD, at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who was trained by a preeminent epilepsy surgeon, Walt Whisler, MD. Dr. Byrne and I scrubbed on a few amazing cases, doing partial lobectomies and a novel technique called multiple subpial transections that he and Dr. Whisler devised.

I also did cases in epilepsy with Shenandoah Robinson, MD, at Rainbow Babies And Children's Hospital in Cleveland. I enjoyed doing "grids and strips" and vagal nerve stimulators. The feeling of whittling down a patient off their seizure medications and seeing their seizure decrease was such a satisfying feeling, which is hard to compete with. It was rare to make someone seizure free, but what an amazing thing to see their quality of life improve.  

Issada Thongtrangan, MD. Microspine (Phoenix): I always loved joints and spine when I was a resident. I would have probably chosen adult reconstruction and joint replacement if I didn't choose spine. It is somewhat similar how the technologies have been evolving between joint replacement and spine. In the remote past, surgeons did hip fusion, knee fusion and many others did joints fusion. 

Nowadays those joint fusion techniques are obsolete as there is evolving technologies in biomaterials and biomechanics so surgeons can offer motion preservation and joint replacements for arthritic joints. This significantly improves patients' quality of life and functional activities.

Scott Russo, MD. Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan (Grand Rapids): Musculoskeletal medicine including musculoskeletal health and wellness. 

Vladimir Sinkov, MD. New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center (Nashua): I love my career and would not trade it for any other specialty. I get to help patients become more functional and pain-free every day.  There is a lot of innovation and growth in spine surgery technology that will allow me to deliver better outcomes and quicker recovery to my patients. It is a very exciting time to be a spine surgeon.

If for some unimaginable reason spine surgery would not be an option for me, I would consider interventional radiology. I would also get to alleviate patient's pain and dysfunction while having access to advanced minimally invasive imaging and procedural technology.  

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