How did you first become interested in the healthcare field?
My path to health care was indirect and unplanned, which I think is uncommon for most people in the healthcare field but relatively common for the people in the field of intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM).
Before being interested in the healthcare field, I was interested in neuroscience. I started college relatively aimlessly and chose Biology as a major without a lot of forethought. I took Botany and Zoology classes and they were OK, but then in my junior year, the university offered its first neuroscience course. I was hooked.
After college, I started working as a research technician in a neuroscience lab in Philadelphia and then as a neuroscientist with a biotech company in Southern California. I moved back to Philadelphia to obtain my PhD in Neuroscience and then back to Southern California for a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience. It was an amazing experience in science, and I worked with some amazing neuroscientists including a Nobel prize winner. I was on the path to being a lifelong academic neuroscientist, and while I really enjoyed myself, I didn’t feel that vocational calling to science that many of my peers did and there was a desire to do something more directly tied to patients and helping people.
An opportunity arose where I could help develop a Neuroscience program at a small college in Pennsylvania, but also help with a project to develop a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) clinic in the town. DBS is used to treat movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and involves implanting electrodes deep in the brain in the patients and stimulating the brain via those electrodes to treat the symptoms of the movement disorder. Perfect for me, right?
Well, the venture to start the clinic had hit funding issues, and the school and geographic area weren’t the best fit for me or my family. A new opportunity presented itself to work in operating rooms and assist with the surgical implantation of the DBS electrodes. My first thought was, “Wait a second, I can just go into a hospital and start sticking people with needles and stimulate and record from their brains without a license or anything?”. Yes, apparently so. This was my opportunity to get into health care, to work with patients directly and still be involved in neuroscience and research. I jumped in with both feet.
What is your current position in your work?
My title is Vice President of Clinical Quality and Performance with Specialtycare. For hospitals, there are often significant operational and training challenges to staffing IONM teams, and for this reason, most hospitals in the US outsource the staffing of the service. Specialtycare is the largest outsourced provider of IONM services in the US.
What drew you to ASNM?
Research and education. I loved working in academia and doing research and educating students. I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue to do those things in my IONM career. What drew to the ASNM was the educational events and research being produced by the society and members of the society. I knew that was a community I wanted to be involved with.
What does this organization provide its members?
“It’s not about what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I didn’t come up with the quote, some other guy did.
It’s not about what the ASNM can provide to members but what members can provide to the mission of the society. I think I just made that one up, but that is the mindset difference I’ve come to appreciate.
You don’t join a non-profit group to profit from it, personally or otherwise. You join a non-profit group to serve the group’s purpose and mission. The goal is to help serve the public by helping members provide the best IONM care to patients. This is done through hosting regular educational events, developing guidelines, and making policy and position statements. That’s what the society provides its members. We make each other better at our craft, which helps to better serve our patients.
Why are you so passionate about ASNM?
I’m not really the most passionate person. I rarely get super excited or super down. I’m driven though, and what drives me is our people and purpose. I have always loved team sports and being part of a team. I was a solid basketball player, but I was never the leading scorer or rebounder. I scored here and there, dished out some assists and always played good team defense. I assisted my team members and helped our team achieve the purpose of competing and winning.
Every good group I’m involved with has good people pitching in to help wherever they can to help each other and the bigger team or group. I think we all have a set of clubs or communities we are involved with whether it be work, sports clubs, social clubs, or professional societies. I’m just as involved with my daughter’s swim teams as I am with the ASNM. I’ll do whatever I can to help the kids have fun and do well in swimming and the club does well, and I’ll do whatever I can to help the members of the ASNM and society be successful. If a swimmer or neuromonitoring professional feels a sense of enjoyment or accomplishment from the team or society, I feel good knowing I may have helped in some small way. That’s what drives me.
What are some of the accomplishments ASNM has made in your time with them?
Great question. The ASNM has produced guidelines, statements and many great educational events, but I think the biggest accomplishment the ASNM has made in my time has been in developing the community. The ASNM has always had an amazing group of professionals. While a good group of professionals shares a common interest, they don’t necessarily share a common set of values. A good community does, and I think a good society should. I don’t think there was an overt plan to improve the society’s sense of community, but when I look back that is probably the one thing that jumps out at me that has improved. We are not perfect though, and I think the challenge now is to continue to foster that sense of community in an increasingly virtual world.
What is your favorite quote or motto by which you live?
There are a host of quotes from Will Ferrell movies that immediately come to mind. I am not big into inspirational life quotes, but I saw one year ago that has always stuck with me. Disclaimer: I have never read anything from the philosopher Kierkegaard, but saw something where he was quoted as saying:
“Most men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, frightfully objective sometimes–but the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others.”
For some reason that really stuck with me, and I have always taken that as, be your harshest critic and don’t make excuses for your own poor behaviors or failures, but then be empathetic when judging others because you never know what someone else is going through. Remembering this quote at times over the years has helped me be better.
The bigger challenge is applying that same logic as a manager or leader of a larger group or organization. For leading a non-profit, I know everyone really wants to help, but we all have jobs and personal lives that take priority. Anything anyone gives is appreciated. If a project is behind, most likely people are overextended, and I have to look in the mirror and try to see where I may be failing to help. I can always communicate, ask if someone needs help or ask for help myself. From that ‘keeping myself honest’ perspective, I do often think of the quote from the great American poet, O’Shea Jackson Sr., “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”.
Here are 5 fun quotes, I often use on my kids and/or in professional speaking engagements as my family and colleagues can attest to and cringe at:
- “They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time. “
-Brian Fantana from Anchorman
- “Did we just become best friends”
-Brennan from Stepbrothers
- “If you ain’t first, you’re last”
-Ricky Bobby and Reese Bobby from Talladega Nights
- “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal”
-Ron Burgundy from Anchorman
- “Me fail English, that’s umpossible”
-Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons
What advice would you like to share with anyone new in the healthcare field?
Never stop reading and improving upon yourself, and always be good to people.
When I stop and look back at how I did something 5 or 10 years ago, I often think to myself, “Wow, that was really dumb”. I hope I say that again 5 or 10 years in the future about things I’m doing now. That will mean I will have continued to have read the basic research and evolved in my practice. I see that mindset in all the good healthcare providers (and professionals) I know. Good healthcare providers all read and evolve. Great healthcare providers are also really good people, to their patients and to their coworkers at all levels.
Do you have any final thoughts our readers should know?
The one thing I’ve learned working in healthcare is that it isn’t always straightforward or easy to get the right diagnosis and treatment. A good primary care physician goes a long way in directing you, but you have to do your research, and talking to friends and family who work in health care can be a very good idea, provided they are connected with top people/hospitals. The friend or family member may not have the answers, but there is a good chance they have a colleague they can refer you to who will. From my own experience, there have been times I was glad I was able to help and direct someone to the right physician I knew, and there have been other times where I was frustrated for a friend who didn’t reach out to me sooner.