Anand: Dr. Wang, you have a very successful clinical and professional neurosurgical career – what first sparked your interest in organized neurosurgery?
Dr. Wang: I got my start in academic neurosurgery when I was a resident at USC. Michael Apuzzo, who was then the editor of the Red Journal, encouraged me to think about the role we can all play in advancing our subspecialty. I have always looked up to him as a role model for what an academic neurosurgeon should strive towards.
Anand: What was your greatest challenge as Chair this past year?
Dr. Wang: Every Chair faces unique challenges. I was fortunate to preside over a relatively quiet year in terms of emergency responses, whether it be from payors, regulators, the media, or our membership. That is thanks in large part to the hard work of my predecessors. This gave us the unique opportunity to take 2018-2019 to strengthen and solidify our society to better serve the members. We were able to revamp our website, expand our number and strength of individual Honor Your Mentor Funds, and develop a new feel to our Annual Meeting as we change the venue cities.
Anand: Is the Spine Section community only for academic neurosurgeons? Who is the membership?
Dr. Wang: I have always felt that the DSPN is for all surgeons interested in spinal surgery. We are mostly composed of private practice surgeons and hospital employees. Those individuals are the base of our membership, and we spend most of our efforts in making sure their interests are represented. Nonetheless, it is important that we are responsive to all spine surgeons, including military doctors, university professors, researchers, trainees, and advanced practice providers (nurses and physician assistants). I would say that we are an extremely agile society and take pride in being able to respond to the needs of a diverse variety of stakeholders.
Anand: How does the spine section work to ensure the longevity of our specialty and protect the care of our patients?
Dr. Wang: This is an important point. The sustainability of our profession is always at the forefront of my mind. I would say that we as a group are doing fairly well now, having survived the numerous changes brought forth by the Affordable Care Act, but who knows what challenges we will face next? This is why it is important for our members to support us and come to our Annual Meeting. Being informed about coming challenges allows our members to better prepare for the future. The efforts of the Rapid Response Team (founded by former Section Chair Joe Cheng) are probably well understood already, but many other volunteer members of our Executive Committee are meeting challenges to our specialty regularly. The fact that this work is often done with minimal recognition or fanfare is an indicator of their success and dedication.
Anand: What advice do you have to young residents as they consider spine surgery as a neurosurgical subspecialty?
Dr. Wang: Please remember that we are a privileged subspecialty. There is great responsibility that rests with that. To me, that means honoring three tenets: 1) Always put patients first, treating them ethically. 2) Volunteer for societal work. It doesn’t have to be the Spine Section. That is what preserves future access to our care, which our patients need. 3) Be optimistic. The future is bright because of the amazing technological advances that will solve many of the diagnostic, surgical, and patient management challenges we face today.
Anand: What do you see is the greatest challenge facing spine surgeons over the short term, say, the next 5 years?
Dr. Wang: I think that we have been charged with practicing medicine ethically. Unfortunately, our subspecialty is sometimes seen in a negative light, and this is mostly undeserved. However, we are also responsible to some degree for how we are perceived, and it is important to continue to build trust with our patients and the payors of healthcare.
Anand: What do you see is the greatest challenge facing spine surgeons over the long term, say, the next 10 years?
Dr. Wang: We will need numerous tools to improve spine care. From high tech solutions like cellular regeneration and robotics, we will be given ever more ability to improve our patients’ lives. In addition, data analytics may allow us to better phenotype common disorders like back pain, guiding treatment. We should stay at the forefront of this and lead the way with good science, sound policy, and responsible consumption of limited resource pools.
Anand: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey with us – any parting thoughts?
Dr. Wang: I want to thank all the Chairs that came before me and encourage the next generation of leaders like yourselves to take up the mantle!