Neurosurgery Residents Learn About Diagnosis From a Physical Therapist’s Point of View

Sep. 8, 2017

Dr. Johnson holding a model of a spine.

Our bodies are complex, which can make diagnosing a disease or disorder difficult. Sometimes pain in one part of the body can actually be referred from another part, such as when a heart problem shows up as pain in the left arm.

Doctors learn how to perform “differential diagnosis,” where they take all the different possibilities the symptoms could point to and then work to narrow things down to an accurate diagnosis.

Doctors can learn about differential diagnosis from their textbooks, but there’s no substitute for practice. Our neurosurgery residents get plenty of hands-on practice in neurosurgical diagnosis, but their diagnostic skills get even better when they can cross into other departments and learn how different specialties approach things.

For instance, it can be helpful for neurosurgeons to understand problems of the spine not just from a neurologist’s standpoint, but from a physical therapist’s standpoint as well.

Recently, the professors of neurosurgery offered residents the chance to learn about diagnosis from Dr. Evan Johnson, Director of Physical Therapy for The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York.

Dr. Johnson directed a practical lab for 12 residents in which he demonstrated some of the techniques physical therapists use to make a diagnosis. One of the things he demonstrated is that sometimes lower back pain can actually signal a problem in the hip, and hip pain can signal a problem with the spine.

The residents enjoyed the experience and were happy to be able to take advantage of Dr. Johnson’s wealth of knowledge. It’s this kind of teamwork between residents and physicians, and between departments, that leads to truly top-notch neurosurgical education.

When it comes to treating patients, Columbia’s residents and physicians use all the available resources to get the job done well.

Learn more about Dr. Evan Johnson at his bio page here.

Learn more about Columbia’s residency program here.

Image credit: John Abbott

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