20 Under 40

20 Under 40 - 2019

Meet the 2021 Winners

Spineline debuted its 20 under 40 campaign in 2018 to showcase nass’ bright, young physicians under the age of 40. The Spineline committee selects the most deserving individuals based on accomplishments to date, community service and philosophy of care. Here are the winners, including brief articles on each that previously appeared in issues of Spineline.

Past Award Winners:

Year Award Winner
2017 David Selby
William Mitchell, MD 
2017 Leon Wiltse K. Daniel Riew, MD
2017  Henry Farfan S. Tim Yoon, MD, PhD 
2017  NASS Spine Advocacy David A Wong, MD, MCs, FRCS 
2016 David Selby Jim Reynolds, MD
2016 Leon Wiltse Keith Bridwell, MD
2016 Henry Farfan Makarand V. Risbud, PhD
2016 NASS Spine Advocacy Charles A. Mick, MD
2015 David Selby Donna M. Lahey, RNFA
2015 Leon Wiltse Frank J. Eismont, MD
2015 Henry Farfan James C. Iatridis, PhD
2015 Past President David A. Wong, MD, MSc, FRCS
2015 NASS Spine Advocacy Dr. Jeffrey J. Wise, MD
2014 David Selby Raj D. Rao, MD
2014 Leon Wiltse Ziya Gokaslan, MD, FACS, FAANS
2014 Henry Farfan Michael H. Heggeness, MD, PhD
2013 David Selby Marjorie Eskay-Auerbach, MD, JD
2013 Leon Wiltse Lawrence G. Lenke, MD
2013 Henry Farfan Michael G. Fehlings, MD, PhD
2012 David Selby Thomas Faciszewski, MD
2012 Leon Wiltse Marcel F. Dvorak, MD
2012 Henry Farfan Helen Gruber, PhD
2011 David Selby Joel Press, MD
2011 Leon Wiltse Kiyoshi Kaneda, MD
2011 Henry Farfan Gunnar Andersson, MD, PhD
2010 David Selby Serena S. Hu, MD
2010 Leon Wiltse Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD
2010 Henry Farfan Narayan Yoganandan, PhD
2009 David Selby Stanley A. Herring, MD 
2009 Leon Wiltse Michael G. Fehlings, MD, PhD, FRCSC
2009 Henry Farfan Avinash Patwardhan, PhD
2008 David Selby David A. Wong, MD
2008 Leon Wiltse Eugene Carragee, MD
2008 Henry Farfan Kenneth M. C. Cheung, MD
2007 David Selby Edward C. Benzel, MD
2007 Leon Wiltse Arthur D. Steffee, MD
2007 Henry Farfan James D. Kang, MD
2006 David Selby Hansen Yuan, MD
2006 Leon Wiltse Henry Bohlman, MD
2006 Henry Farfan Vijay Goel, PhD
2005 David Selby Scott Halderman, MD
2005 Leon Wiltse Harry Herkowitz, MD
2005 Henry Farfan Howard An, MD
2004 David Selby Tom Mayer, MD
2004 Leon Wiltse Edward C. Benzel, MD
2004 Henry Farfan James Weinstein, MD
2003 David Selby Steven Garfin, MD
2003 Leon Wiltse Scott Boden, MD
2003 Henry Farfan Bryan Cunningham, MSc
2002 David Selby Bruce Fredrickson, MD
2002 Leon Wiltse John Kostuik, MD
2002 Henry Farfan F. Todd Wetzel, MD
2001 David Selby Richard Guyer, MD
2001 Leon Wiltse John McCulloch, MD
2001 Henry Farfan Robert Gatchel, PhD
2000 David Selby David Fardon, MD
2000 Leon Wiltse Steve Garfin, MD
2000 Henry Farfan Hamilton Hall, MD
1999 David Selby Casey Lee, MD
1999 Leon Wiltse Thomas S. Whitecloud III, MD
1999 Henry Farfan Vert Mooney, MD
1998 David Selby J. Walt Simmons, Jr., MD
1998 Leon Wiltse Hansen Yuan, MD
1998 Henry Farfan Manohar Panjabi, PhD
1997 David Selby J. Elmer Nix, MD
1997 Leon Wiltse Charles D. Ray, MD
1997 Henry Farfan Tom G. Mayer, MD
1996 David Selby John P. Kostuik, MD
1996 Leon Wiltse Thomas E. Whitesides, Jr., MD
1996 Henry Farfan William C. Hutton, DSc
1991 David Selby W. H. Kirkaldy-Willis, MD

David Selby
David Selby

Brenton Pennicooke, MD

"Commited to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in Spine Care"

Pennicooke From an early age, Brenton Henry Pennicooke knew he wanted to make his parents’ hard work as immigrants pay off. His father built a business from the ground up and his mother developed a career as a drug addiction counselor and social advocate. Both parents exemplified resilience, perseverance, and hard work, which Dr. Pennicooke aspires to emulate everyday as a neurosurgeon. With their work ethic instilled in him, he became the first African-American neurosurgery attending at Washington University in St. Louis.

The importance of what he’s accomplished isn’t lost on him, and he is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion in medicine on all sides. "My primary mode of giving back to my local community is by coordinating formal opportunities for underrepresented students to work with the neurosurgery department to observe surgical cases and conduct research, actively recruit and retain students from underrepresented backgrounds, and pursue internal and external funding to support collaborative programs and research on treating patients from backgrounds that are underrepresented within medicine."

His research interests further this work, as he is using machine learning to better address disparities in spine care. Through his own personal reading, he learned how large data is leveraged to drive innovation and optimization at tech companies and in the financial sector, and thought that those principles could be applied to spine care. During his neurosurgery residency research year, he learned new skills by collaborating with computer scientists, data scientists and operational engineers.

When he’s not in practice or researching, Dr. Pen-nicooke and his wife are avid hikers who enjoy sharing the outdoors with their daughter.

Chris Alcala, MD

"Returns to Puerto Rico to Expand the Puerto Rico Spine Center"

When Dr. Chris Alcala was seven years old, his 35-year-old father developed cauda equina syndrome as a result of lumbar disc herniation. He went from being an avid athlete to wheelchair bound for almost a full year. As a child who was thrust into a part of the home physical therapy team, Dr. Alcala knew he would dedicate his life to helping people who were like his dad, and teaching others to do so.

Alcala For the past several years, Dr. Alcala would return to Puerto Rico a few times a year to provide pro bono surgical, research and educational assistance to the Puerto Rico Spine Center and the University of Puerto Rico Orthopedic Surgery program. After seven years as attending staff surgeon at the Twin Cities Spine Center fellowship program, Dr. Alcala decided to return to Puerto Rico this summer to further develop and expand the Puerto Rico Spine Center with four other surgeons, two interventional pain management specialists and one PM&R doctor. His goal is to continue to expand the first multidisciplinary spine program in the country and one of the few in Latin America.

He feels blessed to achieve this with the educational back-up of his partners at the Twin Cities Spine Center, his professional home. He notes, "there is a longstanding relationship that started more than 30 years ago between the Twin Cities Spine Center and Puerto Rico when the first fellow from PR did his training at the center. Now with me moving back home and joining the Puerto Rico Spine Center with the advice of my extended family at the Twin Cities Spine Center, I see it as a dream come true to give back to my country and provide access to high value spine care. We are building an educational and research bridge between both institutions to move forward our field and subsequently, patient care."

When he’s not busy with work, Dr. Alcala spends time with his wife (an orthopedic hand surgeon) and two young children.

Aria Nouri, MD, MSc

"Finds Success as Researcher, Reviewer and Neurosurgeon"

NouriWhat’s in a name? For neurosurgeon Aria Nouri, a great deal. In the process of researching his master’s thesis, he found inconsistencies in the literature pertaining to "cervical spondylotic myelopathy." Either it wasn’t always the same condition or included a broader group of pathologies (eg, ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament). The lack of clear definition prompted him to propose a more descriptive name with a clear definition, which ultimately led to the chapter, "Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy: Epidemiology, Genetics, and Pathogenesis" in his thesis, The Role of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Predicting Surgical Outcome in Patients with Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy, which he worked on with his advisor and mentor, Michael Fehlings, MD, PhD, FRCSC, FACS. Despite early hesitation, the term "Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy" has been adopted in AOSpine’s guidelines on the management of DCM, and the recent RECODE-DCM initiative survey found surgeons and patients both supported DCM as the index terminology for the condition.

Dr. Nouri’s contribution to spine research continues through his more than 70 published papers and as a top-rated peer reviewer for a number of spine-related journals. He recommends to new reviewers that their reviews should aim to "make the paper the best possible version of itself. Comments to authors should focus not just on pointing out problems or weaknesses but also provide suggestions on how those problems can be rectified or diminished. I think it is important to look at literature referenced, seeing what papers have and more importantly, have not been cited, will provide a quick look into how well the paper is placed into the context of the ‘current state of the art.’"

When he is not seeing patients or researching, Dr. Nouri enjoys soccer and basketball, listening to audio-books, and traveling.

Aditya Raghunandan, MD

"Navy Background Provides Leadership, Career Goals"

As a first generation immigrant and thrill seeker, Aditya Raghunandan found meaning and excitement in his early career as a US Navy flight surgeon. For eight years and three separate tours, he ensured the nation’s aviators were able to perform at levels akin to those of professional athletes.

Raghunandan "As Navy flight surgeons, we fly with our aviators to understand firsthand the grueling environment they have to operate under, so I accumulated a little over 400 hours of flight time in 16 different types of aircraft," he says.

Because of his experience in keeping aviators flight-ready by optimizing musculoskeletal care and mitigating biophychosocial stressors, Dr. Raghunandan pursued medical training in sports and spine medicine to help individuals move past injuries and disabilities and reach their full potential. He was awarded a four-year scholarship to attend medical school.

Dr. Raghunandan has served in leadership positions in the local, regional and national levels. Seeing a need for residents to contribute more to the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine, he sent a proposal to the organization president and was named the inaugural president of the Sports Medicine Resident Council. Under his leadership, the group launched initiatives that increased mentorship, research, social media and online didactic activities.

His career goals are informed by his early experience, citing he’d like to "utilize my experience caring for the biopsychosocial needs of aviators and apply the specialized skill set of a musculoskeletal specialist to the unique health and environmental challenges surrounding astronauts and space flight."

When he’s not serving his patients, Dr. Raghunandan can be found running, finding great new restaurants, and spending time with his wife and young daughter.

José A. Canseco, MD, PhD

"A Love for Research Leads to a Surgeon-Scientist Career"

CansecoFor José A. Canseco, MD, PhD, a passion for spine care was ignited as an undergraduate at Rice University while he was conducting research in muscu-loskeletal bioengineering. While at Harvard Medical School, he solidified his plan to become an orthopedic surgeon and research scientist. His doctoral research at M.I.T. was on ligament regeneration using co-cultures of mesenchymal stem cells and ACL fibroblasts to enhance primary ligament repair.

Dr. Canseco’s current research interests, sparked by the mentorship of Dr. Christopher Kepler, are understanding neurogenic inflammation and its role in discogenic back pain. As a clinician-scientist, his goal is in developing innovative conservative management approaches for disc-related back pain based on currently available biologics for neurogenic pain syndromes. From a basic science perspective, he hopes to explore alternative inflammatory pathways to understand the molecular basis of disc degeneration and its relationship to discogenic back pain. His long-range goals include developing a comprehensive surgical acumen to provide excellent patient care and pursuing a career as a surgeon-scientist. Presently, Dr. Canseco is an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Rothman Institute and an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University. He serves as a principal investigator in the Laboratory for Translational Spine Science focusing on therapies that can be applied in the clinic and operating room.

Dr. Canseco recognizes the importance of giving back and has volunteered his time at Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit clinic for medically underserved Latino populations in South Philadelphia. He hopes to continue his volunteerism as his career progresses.

When he’s not engaging in research or seeing patients, Dr. Canseco can be found with his wife and three children at the beach, and deep-sea fishing with his in-laws.

Raymond Hah, MD

"Training Fellows is Rewarding for Orthopedic Surgeon"

Hah As an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Southern California’s Keck Medicine, Raymond Hah devotes an ample amount of time to working with up and coming physicians.

"Training the next generation of spine surgeons is very important to me as it ultimately has an exponentially larger impact on people than my own clinical practice," Hah said. "Most important is teaching them the right indications and correct patient selection for surgery. I also think it is important for them to see a wide range of surgical techniques, so they have the introduction to see what is best for them in their practice."

Dr. Hah grew up around medicine in Southern California, albeit with different types of patients. His father, Bill Hah, has been a veterinarian for several decades and still runs a busy practice. The younger Hah says he learned two valuable lessons early on from his father.

"The importance of a strong work ethic and to never shy away from any task, no matter how small," Hah said. "I realized that cleaning a kennel is just as important to running a hospital as the surgeries and medical evaluations. I think that idea tremendously influences the way that I work even to this day, especially in the operating room."

From an early age, Dr. Hah decided a career in medicine would be his path. After high school, he enrolled in a combined undergraduate and MD program and was passionate about pursuing his goal of becoming a physician.

Philip Louie, MD

"Taking Patient Engagement into the Future"

LouieDr. Philip Louie’s interest in spine care came when his once energetic grandmothers began to struggle to walk without pain. The promise of providing patients with a return to their activities and quality of life was an exciting one for him. As a full-fledged physician, Dr. Louie has been able to council those grandmothers to seek treatment, and with minor interventions they are back to walking the sidewalks with grace and determination.

Engaging with patients is a passion of Dr. Louie’s. While in residency, he and fellow resident Kevin Campbell, MD, noticed that they consistently were asked the same few questions. They sent a series of daily text messages and exercise videos to coach peri- and postoperative patients through their recovery. This led to them starting a company, STREAMD, that runs as a perioperative chatbot on an artificial intelligence and machine learning platform that takes patients from preoperative to the postoperative recovery period.

Dr. Louie is an active researcher who has published more than 100 papers on training, machine learning and AI to provide individualized care, psychosocial factors associated with treatment, and health care costs and value issues.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Dr. Louie has been giving back to the community he came from via the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area of Seattle. Unfortunately, much of that work has been in the form of cleaning vandalism, aiding in public safety and helping businesses find funding to stay afloat through the pandemic.

Within NASS, Dr. Louie is a frequent presenter at NASS conferences and a member of SpineLine’s editorial board. His free time is spent with his family at local parks and beaches, and supporting Seattle’s sports teams.

Simone Maybin, MD

"Military Background Paves Way for Success"

Growing up in a military family, Simone Maybin lived in several different countries and experienced many unique cultures from a young age.

Years later, she enrolled at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO., where she was an athlete and cadet leader while learning the time management skills that would serve her well in future endeavors.

Maybin"My time in the military affected me in such a major way, I could write a book," said Maybin, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Conway Medical Center in South Carolina. "In summary I will say the greatest lessons are: 1) the conditions could always be worse 2) barriers don’t ever make me hesitate in my efforts and 3) relationship-building is the key to success."

After college, Maybin became a professional bodybuilder, competing in 19 competitions over nine years. Although she has taken time off recently due to a challenging fellowship and COVID-19 restrictions, Maybin plans to compete again.

"The thing I most proudly admit is I was 100% natural the entire journey in a non-drug tested federation," she said. "I did this to be an example to others. The most rewarding part is inspiring others to take control of their health and establish a healthy balance."

As a woman of color, Maybin has embraced being a role model for other young women who might not see many physicians who look like them.

"I’ve also been different in that way and I have been equipped over the years with tips from mentors, my parents and colleagues," Maybin said. "It takes an Army to get where I am and nothing I earned has been alone. I hope to be part of many other young girls’ Army and help them to reach their dreams."

Aju Bosco, MD

"Trendsetter for Orthopedic Surgeons in India"

BoscoIn 2015, Aju Bosco became the first orthopedic surgeon from the government sector of the state of Tamil Nadu, India to pursue the board-certified spine surgery clinical fellowship. Doing so allowed Bosco to be trained under the country’s finest spine surgeons at Ganga Hospital in Coimbatore, the largest private spine care hospital in the country.

"As the first board-certified spine surgeon to be appointed as the assistant professor in the only orthopedic spine surgery unit in the government sector of my state, I believe that I am in a key position to transform the lives of thousands with spine ailments, not just by utilizing the skills that I have acquired during my fellowship but also by inspiring my resident physicians to pursue a career in spine surgery," Bosco said. "I am proud to be able to offer specialized spine care to underprivileged patients free of cost under the government scheme, who cannot afford the high cost of such treatment in private sector hospitals."

Bosco is the son of two general physicians, Drs. John and Rita Bosco. Seeing physicians up close every day made Bosco eager to follow his parents’ path.

"My mother instilled in me the respect and passion for the medical profession from an early age," Bosco said. "My father is a passionate physician, and he treats a third of his patients free of cost since the day he started practicing medicine. I grew up seeing the altruistic and selfless service of my parents to the underprivileged community in my neighborhood. I have inherited from my parents the qualities of altruism and passion for the profession, which I believe are the two most important attributes of a good physician."

Lindsey Ross, MD

"Breaks Down Barriers as a Minority, Female Surgeon"

RossAs a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai in her hometown of Los Angeles, Lindsey Ross understands clearly that she is carrying a torch of sorts for women of color.

"It is rare that I see other surgeons that look like me," Ross said. "For that matter, neither have my patients, my colleagues, the people who work in the hospital or the administrators I work for. It can feel overwhelming at times, where my every breath and move and is attempting to break down walls, barriers, and sterotypes. My success is a step forward in progress and success for all women and women of color."

Ross’ unique experience extends beyond LA, however. In 2016-17, she served as a White House Fellow, a prestigious position where she worked for the Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that also included roundtable discussions with top government leaders.

"I served during the transition from President Obama to President Trump, which was a special time in history," Ross said. "The experience was unparalleled. I enjoyed learning about public health policy, finance and leadership at the highest federal level. I also had the opportunity to meet many leaders of our country not only in health care but in the judicial system, economic, communications and national security. This is a view into our great country that few are afforded."

As for being a physician in the ever-changing modern health care landscape, Ross says she focuses on compassion, competency and creativity.

"This is my mantra and drives all of my decisions from the time I wake up until I go to sleep," she said. "I always want to do what’s best for my patients and I will go above and beyond for them."

Kaku Barkoh, MD

"Son of African Immigrants Follows Mother into Medicine"

Kaku Barkoh’s parents immigrated to America from Ghana nearly 40 years ago. His mother, Elizabeth, was a nurse who cared for patients with dementia and she became a significant influence on her son’s decision to pursue a career in medicine.

Barkoh "She brought this spirit to her work as a nurse caring for patients with Alzheimer’s dementia and it created a special bond between her, her patients and their families," Barkoh said of his mother. "To this day, she regularly gets calls or Christmas cards from the families of her patients, despite the fact that she is retired and some of her patients have since passed away. I try to emulate my mother by caring for my patients as if they were my own family."

An orthopedic surgeon in the Houston area, Dr. Barkoh mentors African-American high school and college students who are interested in medicine. As a minority in the surgical field, he can speak from experience on how to overcome challenges and the value of good, old-fashioned hard work.

"My message to African-American youths aspiring to become physicians is that you can achieve all your goals and then some," he said.

"You belong in every room you walk into. Have confidence in yourself, be diligent and live with integrity. I also strongly encourage them to find mentors. When most hikers plan to climb one of the Himalayan mountain peaks they hire a guide, regardless of their hiking experience. The terrain can be treacherous, but having a guide allows hikers to navigate the difficult expedition. Likewise, the journey to becoming a physician can be extremely challenging. While the guide/mentor doesn’t make the terrain itself less difficult, they can help you navigate it to make the journey much smoother."

Sandra Hobson, MD

"Takes Pride in Bucking Trend as a Female Orthopedic Surgeon"

Hobson As the first patient walked in during Sandra Hobson’s first day as an attending spine surgeon at Emory University, he had an observation for the new doctor: "I was expecting you to be a guy."

To her credit, Dr. Hobson didn’t flinch.

"I simply laughed and told him that seemed like a pretty reasonable guess based on statistics," Hobson said. "Times will change and I enjoy being part of establishing the reputation among patients and other doctors that women can be excellent surgeons and clinicians in any discipline."

As a teenager, Hobson learned a valuable early lesson from her mother, Diana, on the significance of taking chances. Diana took out a loan to purchase a small business in Forest, VA, a store that sold horse riding supplies and country apparel. At the time, the store had just one or two employees, but since then has grown to multiple locations and about 40 employees.

"I learned so many things from her that are essential to being a good surgeon and good leader, especially as a woman," Hobson said. "Things like taking yourself seriously even if others don’t, and then being very successful at your endeavor. Things like having the courage to make big decisions that can have a major impact on others, even though you can’t guarantee the outcome. And things like having a curious mindset to see what you can accomplish next, and maintaining the focus on long-term goals when you suffer a short-term setback."

Dr. Hobson is the first physician in a family that includes several scientists and engineers. So far, so good for the young surgeon.

"I thought medicine was incredibly cool because I could still work with math/science and also work with people in a daily and deeply meaningful way," she said.

Gene Tekmyster, DO

"Thrives Treating Elite Athletes"

Tekmyster Having been an athlete and all-around active individual, Gene Tekmyster spent his undergraduate years as an athletic trainer. The satisfaction he got in safely returning athletes to competition set him on his career path. He notes "spine medicine and spine injuries have always been the toughest of injuries to deal with… I wanted to be able to provide the athletes I was caring for with answers and treatment options that will allow them to return to their respective sports."

Now as a practicing physician at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine, Dr. Tekmyster is part of the team that cares for athletes from the LA Kings of the NHL and the USC Trojans. He is also a team physician for the US Ski and Snowboard team as well as continuing to care for athletes of all levels in the community.

His philosophy of care is that the goal of treatment should be optimization and return to the patient’s pre-injury function. Noting that every patient’s situation is unique, he prioritizes "an individual treatment plan that can be implemented to allow for optimal outcomes and functional improvement."

Dr. Tekmyster gives back to his community by providing event coverage for events like road races, triathlons, and high school sporting events. He also conducts educational seminars on injury prevention and caring for athletic injuries.

In his free time, Dr. Tekmyster can be found with his family, teaching his toddler how to ride a bike and enjoying outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and skiing. He’s also an avid weightlifter who has obtained a coaching certification in Olympic weightlifting.

Gregory Schroeder, MD

"Research Always at the Forefront"

SchroederGregory Schroeder may be in the early stages of his orthopedic surgery career, but he has already authored or co-authored a whopping 217 peer-reviewed articles.

"I think research is important, because it allows what we do not only to affect our patients, but to help patients throughout the world, and it helps push spine care forward," Schroeder said. "Hopefully, this will lead to better care for patients in the future."

With many authored papers to choose from, Dr. Schroeder says he has two that stick out: 1) "Is it necessary to extend a multilevel posterior cervical decompression and fusion to the upper thoracic spine?" published in Spine in 2016 and 2) "Utilization of time-driven activity-based costing to determine the true cost of a single or 2-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion" published in Clinical Spine Surgery in 2018.

Dr. Schroeder practices at the Rothman Institute near Philadelphia, and is also an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Thomas Jefferson University. An Indiana native, he says medicine was always something he found interesting, but it wasn’t until a friend in college was diagnosed with cancer that he decided to pursue a career in the medical field.

"The most rewarding part of being a physician is seeing the patients return to clinic after the postoperative pain has subsided, and their nerve pain is gone," he said. "The most challenging part is explaining to patients that they have significant pain, but there is nothing further that I can offer them."

Catherine Olinger, MD

"Learns to Balance Motherhood and Surgery"

The demands of being a surgeon are rigorous. Likewise for being the mother of a young child. Combining the two? Well, that can be downright daunting. But Catherine Olinger has embraced the challenge, mastering the time management skills required to excel as an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Iowa while also teaming with her husband to care for their 8-year-old son.

Olinger"There are days that require finishing care for my patients as opposed to picking up my son from school," Olinger said. "There have been commitments regarding my career that have been prioritized over family and the balance between the two can be lopsided at times. However, my husband and I are a team and our son is our number one priority."

Olinger’s son, Eddie, was born while she was in medical school at Creighton University. Her husband is in the Army and there are days when sacrifices must be made to care for their son.

"There were times I was not participating in every single conference, staying up late to read and volunteering for the worst calls shifts to make sure my family was cared for," she said. "I also think that my son is my greatest accomplishment and my family is most important to me. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Making it all work definitely involves being aligned as a family to what values are important on a daily basis."

Olinger, who wanted to be a meteorologist as a child, found her career path in graduate school when she worked in pathology and surgery.

"I encourage people who think they want to be doctors to find ways to experience the health care field first hand," Olinger said.

Michael McCarthy, MD

"Spine Care Is a Family Thing"

McCarthy As the son and younger brother of spine surgeons, Michael McCarthy’s training started on weekends at his father’s practice: carrying charts, helping with research and observing surgeries. "The influence of these two individuals have shaped my career path providing me with tangible examples of how to be an excellent surgeon, parent, sibling and caring human."

His teenage and college years provided further confirmation that Dr. McCarthy would follow in his father and sister’s footsteps. In high school, he volunteered at a camp for children with muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. While playing football for Boston College, observing the human body’s capabilities solidified his interest in biomechanics and orthopedics.

Owing to his early mentorship experiences, Dr. McCarthy recently published an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery assessing how trainees can reach peak performance. The research informs his own work with trainees as he now "pays forward" his mentorship experiences. In addition to medical education research, Dr. McCarthy also has research interests in cervical spine surgery and the impact of COVID-19 on spine surgery.

In his practice, Dr. McCarthy collaborates with his patients to provide patient-centered care using evidence-based treatments. He specializes in minimally invasive, degenerative, tumor and deformity care, and believes "spine surgery is on the precipice of a significant change as enabling technologies continue to improve surgeons’ ability to address spine issues in the least impactful manner."

When not in his busy Carmel, Indiana practice, Dr. McCarthy can be found with his wife and three children participating in his favorite activities: hiking, traveling and fishing. The family also gives back through community outreach programs and their church.

Koji Tamai, MD

"Partnership with SPINE20 is Paramount"

Tamai Koji Tamai was among the main authors of the first scientific paper from SPINE20, an international advocacy group founded in 2019 by NASS, EuroSpine, German Spine Society and Saudi Spine Society to globally improve spine care and prevention.

Tamai, an orthopedic surgeon in Osaka, Japan, says his work with SPINE20 has been an important initiative for him.

"In my opinion, SPINE20 constitutes critical work that I am accomplishing to serve as a bridge for Asian countries," Tamai said. "In the near future, I would like to become a person that connects Asian countries to SPINE20, eventually resulting in improving the local spinal care level in every Asian country."

As a child, Tamai suffered from extreme atopic dermatitis and was hospitalized frequently. He said the experience was a driving force for his interest in medicine.

"As far as I can remember, I had already decided to become a doctor," he said. "In my elementary school graduation essay, I described my dream to become a medical doctor. After achieving this dream, I met great spine surgeons including my current superior, Nakamura. They had excellent personalities and exhibited strong professionalism, which led me to decide to become a spinal surgeon."

Tamai has made several trips to the US, including a year-long fellowship with USC Spine Center. There, he learned differences in the insurance systems as well as the contrasting styles of doctor-patient relationships between the US and Japan, bolstering his world views.

Alexander Satin, MD

"Ice Hockey Injury Put Life in Perspective"

Satin Alexander Satin played center and left wing in competitive ice hockey, and was on a New York state championship team in high school. He has terrific memories of playing hockey for outstanding coaches and alongside talented teammates.

However, a separated left shoulder injury during his senior year of high school took Satin’s focus off the ice.

"The injury definitely put a lot of things in perspective for me," Satin said. "While many hockey players take gap years after high school, it became very apparent that my path was to go to college and pursue a premedical course. I had an excellent orthopedic surgeon who helped me through the injury. He spent a lot of time with me and was very reassuring. Mentally, it was very important to me that I return for the end of the season. This experience definitely piqued my interest in orthopedic surgery and is something that I think of while treating injured patients today, particularly young athletes."

Today, Satin is an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Back Institute, where he says advancing medicine and improving spine care are embedded in the TBI culture.

"We always say that if we are doing things the same way in 20 years, then we did something wrong," Satin said. "To that end, I think research is fundamental to advancing patient care. Whether it is understanding risk factors for complications or determining the best surgical approach, research provides us with answers to important clinical questions. I hope to follow in my senior partners’ footsteps and safely introduce new technology that improves clinical outcomes through rigorous clinical studies."

Jeffrey Mullin, MD

"Call to Service Guides Career"

Mullin For Jeffrey Mullin, choosing neurosurgery as his specialty was the culmination of a life-long desire to serve others combined with his attraction to the physical and intellectual demands. He notes, "immense knowledge of the delicate anatomy and physiology with the continual honing of high-level technical abilities all merged to improve patients’ lives in a tangible way."

Now in practice in Buffalo, that call to service manifests in remarkable ways. When he saw members of his community unable to access care, he collaborated with his hospital system and now runs a clinic where he provides spine care to the un- and under-insured. The people who visit often need help navigating the system and Mullin and his team provide support.

Dr. Mullin’s patients are the benefactors of his dedication. Colleagues note that he is the first in the hospital to round on all his patients, and he takes time to explain complex concepts with empathy and compassion. About his relationship with patients, Dr. Mullin explains, "the patient-physician bond is meaningful to me. Patients are placing their health in my hands… I provide patients with my undivided focus to bring what I consider to be the optimal targeted surgery for each specific patient and his/her associated pathology."

He also serves as the Associate Program Director for the residency program and Co-Fellowship Director for the Spine Fellowship at the University of Buffalo Neurosurgery program. Colleagues say he takes time to understand how his students learn so he can provide an optimal educational experience. As a result, his trainees have been awarded $70,000 over the past two years in research funding. Dr. Mullin’s own research interests include spine biomechanics, cervical pedicle screws and proximal junctional tethers.

When not serving patients and training physicians, Dr. Mullin enjoys spending time with his wife Katherine and five daughters.

Eiman Shafa, MD

"Embraces the Future Via Robotics"

Growing up in Iran at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, Eiman Shafa saw his young uncle come home with a spinal cord injury. "I recall as a young boy wanting to make him better," he notes. "Looking back, this sad event encouraged me along a journey to address spine pathology."

Shafa The family immigrated to New Jersey when Dr. Shafa was 9 years old. Despite having to learn English, his childhood was essentially that of any native American’s. When it was time for college, he studied in Nashville before returning for a residency five minutes from his childhood home. His fellowship was at Twin Cities Spine Center, where he is now an orthopedic surgeon, Director of Education, and Medical Director of Spine for Allina Health.

An avid researcher, Dr. Shafa’s primary focuses are robotic spine surgery and minimally invasive techniques. Of his practice’s robotic spine program, he says "I believe robotic assistance will be used in our procedures commonly over the years to come but the technology is currently advanced enough to enable all surgeons to work efficiency, and with accuracy and reproducibility. The most impactful part of robotic surgery currently is the detail to which a surgery can be planned ahead of the incision time."

Dr. Shafa has recently joined NASS’ Section on Robotics and Navigation. "I am eager to contribute to the ideas that will guide thoughtful adoption of the technology for surgeon colleagues and guide industry engineers to design robotic capabilities from the clinical perspective for surgical decision-making to completion of the surgical procedure."

In his free time, Dr. Shafa can be found learning taekwondo from his wife who has earned two blackbelts, taking on a wood working project, and keeping up with his 2-year-old daughter.