The Future Begins in the Present: Building Strong Neurosurgeons

Dec. 15, 2017

Michael Cloney--Columbia Medical student and aspiring neurosurgeon
Michael Cloney–Columbia Medical student and aspiring neurosurgeon

Faculty here at Columbia’s Department of Neurosurgery believe that the future of neurosurgery begins now, with the careful mentorship of those just joining the field. This includes the newest neurosurgical residents as well fledgling medical students.

We think this is one reason why, The Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons produces more academic neurosurgeons than any other residency program.

Out of 97 neurosurgery programs reviewed and reported in The Journal of Neurosurgery, “Medical school graduates of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons chose to enter academics the most frequently.”

The Department of Neurosurgery has a well-established mentorship program that begins in medical school. Unlike most other medical schools, Columbia has a mandatory one-week neurosurgery clerkship for medical students in their third year.

According to Dr. Jeffrey N. Bruce, who heads the Columbia Neurosurgery residency program:

“During that week-long clerkship, students’ perceptions about neurosurgery change. Students can come in intimidated by neurosurgery, but that clerkship personalizes the experience and makes it more accessible. Many students’ perceptions about neurosurgery change. They learn that patients do well after treatment, and there’s a lot of satisfaction for patients and physicians.”

During the clerkship, faculty encourage medical students to take a hands-on approach and get involved in department’s laboratories. It is in these labs that the medical students are introduced to the high priority the Department places on research and academia.

Many of these students are mentored by neurosurgery residents who do their own research and work closely with faculty in the labs. Because of the Department’s dedication to furthering the science of neurosurgery, residents are required to spend two years out of the seven-year training program engaged in research.

In the lab, medical students and residents are paired with a faculty researcher. These mentors involve them in their own projects as well as oversee new ventures. These partnerships frequently result in publications and grants.

For example, medical student Garret Banks (class of 2015), was mentored by Dr. E. Sander Connolly Jr. and fifth-year neurosurgery resident Dr. Charles Mikell. Banks co-authored a paper that won an award for Top Neurosurgery Forum Poster in Neurotrauma and Critical Care from the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Dr. Michael McDowell is another example. As a medical student he was also mentored by Dr. Connolly. He was awarded a grant from the Brain Aneurysm Foundation for a research project on the assessment of aneurysm rupture risk.

Medical student Michael Cloney (pictured above) believes that Columbia’s practice of including students in research makes them more invested in the program. “You’re not just a cog in a machine,” says Cloney. “You’re really part of the program.”

Cloney co-authored a paper about treating brain tumors in the elderly with neurosurgeons Dr. Jeffrey N. Bruce, Dr. Michael B. Sisti, and Dr. Guy M. McKhann II. The paper was presented at a meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Dr. Donald O. Quest, assistant dean of students at Columbia University, believes that building mentor-assisted achievements like these creates the foundation for a successful and productive legacy of outstanding neurosurgeons.

“Success breeds success,” says Dr. Quest. “The success of Columbia’s research program also attracts academically-minded students from other schools, broadening the exchange of ideas and making the intellectual environment that much richer.”

Witnessing the potential for satisfaction during the clerkship certainly attracts medical students to the field of neurosurgery. The strong mentorship and academic focus of the program helps ensure that Columbia not only produces a significant number of neurosurgeons, but a high-quality neurosurgeon, as well.

Learn more about neurosurgery mentors in the links below:

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