“A dedicated faith in humanity will send ripples in all directions.”
Clearly, many neurosurgeons demonstrate a dedicated faith in humanity and do a great deal to create tidal waves in positive directions. Unfortunately, too often the public’s attention is drawn to a few bad actors, whose abhorrent behaviors stain the profession. While the practice of medicine has changed over the years, it remains a profession devoted to caring for people, often when they are the most vulnerable. Neurosurgeons often first encounter our patients at the extreme of this spectrum – after a terrible trauma, upon learning of a brain mass or subsequent to the onset of neurological loss – to name just a few we treat every day. Despite, or perhaps because of, the incredible stress associated with our careers, studies show that the vast majority of neurosurgeons engage in service beyond our jobs.
There are neurosurgeons who bring hope to places with at risk populations, or who have suffered from natural disasters, like Guatemala (University of Michigan), Nicaragua (Barrow Neurological), Haiti (University of Miami) and Uganda (Duke University). Many others are dedicated to the work of organized neurosurgery. There is the sacrifice of those like Drs. Kathryn Ko, David Kline and Alexa Canady who have tirelessly served the needy within the U.S. and still more who give their time and resources to mentoring, teaching, local charities, institutions of faith, neighborhoods and more. Knowing so many who give so much has always made me proud to be a part of the neurosurgery community. It has also made me even more determined to help identify and discipline those who do not hold this high ideal.
When a patient enters a neurosurgeon’s office, they place enormous trust in our knowledge, skills and experience. Over the course of a remarkably short time, they welcome us into the intimacies of their lives and permit us to guide them in crucial, often life-altering medical decisions. They have the right to assume that any neurosurgeon they see will embody the highest ideals of the privilege to serve. As a community, it remains one of our most profound responsibilities to insure this reality.
I thank Alex Valadka, MD, FAANS, for choosing The Privilege of Service as the focus for the 2018 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting and inspiring this issue of AANS Neurosurgeon. Our hope is that the individual stories from neurosurgeons underscore why it remains such a privilege to be a part of this specialty. At the same time, Robert Harbaugh, MD, FAANS, details a remarkably simple roadmap to ensure there are no bad apples. The road to becoming a neurosurgeon as well as performing the job we do is not easy:
- According to the ABNS, the average neurosurgeon completes their training at age 33, which is 8 years after the average lawyer has begun earning (and 12 years after most who work in the business sector). Based on Department of Labor statistics, lawyers get a $1 million dollar head start!
- Neurosurgeons work an average of 60-80 hours/week, compared with just 35.5 for Americans as a whole.
- Impressively, 96 percent of neurosurgeons report significant involvement in some type of charitable activity.
Neurosurgeons devote considerable time and energy to educational efforts, particularly during annual meetings where more than 1,300 presentations and 100 courses are completed over five days.* Here’s a brief breakdown of this time commitment:
- Presentation and course preparation for an annual meeting alone takes 3,000 work hours, or the equivalent of 375 standard workdays or 75 weeks (assuming 8 hour/5 day standard).
- The hours devoted to professional education across the major neurosurgical meetings by humanitarian neurosurgeons totals at least 12,000 hours or 1,500 days toward this activity alone!
- This does not include the months or years of data gathering and analysis involved in most of these presentations.
In addition to educational efforts, more than 15 percent of all neurosurgeons work tirelessly in organized neurosurgery to make it possible for neurosurgeons to provide optimal care. Beyond neurosurgery’s humanitarian contributions to medical causes, we also cook in soup kitchens, prepare meals for the homebound, volunteer in schools, participate in religious institutions and foundations, work as mentors and teachers and much more. We are a community that is proud to help humanity and is honored by the privilege of our profession to serve patients, our communities and send giant ripples beyond!
*numbers vary year to year