Deborah L. Benzil, MD, FACS, FAANS
Past-Chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Vice Chair, Neurosurgery
Cleveland Clinic Foundation
For the last five years, I have written and edited many pieces for Neurosurgery Blog: More Than Just Brain Surgery. The majority explored the impact of health policy and regulatory control on the care of our patients. Sometimes, however, an unexpected event serves as a poignant reminder that practicing medicine is still an honored profession and burdensome regulations can’t take that from me. Just such a moment happened recently.
Inspiring the next generation of physicians and specifically neurosurgeons is a priority for me. Selfishly, I need to ensure there are fantastic clinicians to care for my family and me in the coming decades, especially as we age (gracefully, I hope). Recently, a friend reached out to me on behalf of his neighbor, a high school student interested in a career in neurosurgery. He requested that I provide an opportunity to see neurosurgery firsthand. My first inclination was to reply. “Thanks, but no thanks.” These days, regulations abound and just clearing a student to set foot in the hospital is a significant undertaking. Once this is accomplished, the next hurdle is providing the right balance of exposing them to something inspiring and meaningful while simultaneously providing care for patients. Unlike residents, who are in a formal teaching position, high school students are just observers who may have never set foot in an operating room before. You never know how they will react!
Fortunately, this experience has a happy ending! I suppressed my instincts for the easy road and said “yes.” The student was incredibly motivated and took full responsibility for getting her clearance through all the administrative processes. Then from the moment she arrived, she was wildly enthusiastic yet professional, she embodied the perfect balance of being involved and inquisitive while not intrusive. Her exposure included observation of a fairly long and complex spinal tumor followed by an afternoon of “routine” clinic patients. Her presence and questions served to reinforce how neurosurgery is a unique and privileged profession and specialty — a keen reminder that what sometimes feels, after 30+ years, regular is really very special and that neurosurgeons do make a huge difference in our patient’s lives.
After her experience, she wrote the following:
I was given the incredible opportunity to shadow neurosurgeon Dr. Deborah Benzil, the Vice Chair of Neurosurgery. When I first arrived at the Cleveland Clinic, I was nervous about the expected demanding environment. My nerves quickly faded as soon as I met her. She was kind and welcoming in her introduction I was taken to the operating room to watch a spinal laminectomy to remove an intradural tumor. I thought I would just stand and watch as the surgeons operated, but I was wrong. The nurses, technicians, and physicians all took the time to explain what they were doing and why. After the surgery, I was able to see patients for the rest of the day. I had many questions that were all clearly answered and explained. At one point I asked about spinal stenosis. What followed was an explanation that was easily understandable even to someone with limited medical education. Dr. Benzil also showed me the scans of previous patients with the diagnosis, so that I could get a better idea of why spinal stenosis needs to be treated. It was an invaluable learning opportunity. I am very thankful to Dr. Benzil for taking the time to teach me about the rewarding career of a neurosurgeon.
In the end, however, I owe her my thanks. Neurosurgery is a specialty that touches patients and their families in many ways, being a part of that work is a great honor. Pundits wax poetic about value, quality, coding and administrative issues, creating an atmosphere of regulatory red tape that leaves many of us wondering why we chose to be a physician. However, medicine remains a profession inspiring to the next generation. And that is a very good thing.