20 Under 40

20 Under 40 - 2019

Meet the 2022 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

Christina Cheng, MD

"Mentoring the Next Generation of Women in Orthopedic Surgery"

Chenge Christina Cheng is a member of a very small club. As a first-generation Asian American female spine surgeon, she is used to feeling under-represented in orthopedic medical education, noting the already low percentage of female orthopedic surgeons decreases further when discussing female spine surgeons. “During my training, I was blessed to have supportive mentors; however, it was difficult to find mentorship from female spine surgeons because there are so few of us,” Cheng said.

In her roles at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Ohio, she gets to be the mentor to aspiring orthopedic surgeons that she herself had trouble finding. And she is making the most of the opportunity to impact medical education on multiple fronts. As a professor, Cheng is involved in designing and teaching second-year musculoskeletal curriculum. As Acting Internship Director she provides support and guidance to the next generation of orthopedic surgeons, matching them into orthopedic residency. She hopes that being a visible woman in orthopedic and spine surgery will encourage other women to choose the specialty.

In addition to a strong emphasis on education, Cheng’s mentees can expect to see her unwavering commitment to a patient-centered philosophy of care. They’ll see her consistently encourage visiting patients to include their support structure in care discussions. “I feel that it is important to encourage patients to bring family members or close friends with them to appointments so there is an extra ear to listen and an extra voice to speak up for them if needed," Cheng said.

Cheng also generously donates her time to nonprofit organizations such as the American Medical Women’s Association, where she enjoys mentoring women tackling the rigors of medical school. An active NASS member, she volunteers as a reviewer for The Spine Journal. In her free time, Cheng enjoys traveling with her family and spending time with her husband and daughter.

Benjamin Davies, MD

"Research & Charity Work on Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy Yield Recognition, Awareness"

Not many physicians can say they’ve been recognized by their country’s head of state for their contribution to their field, but Benjamin Davies is proud to make such a claim. In 2020, then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson honored the neuroscientist, surgeon and researcher with a Point of Light Award for his work on degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM). At just 33 years old, Davies is leading the charge in DCM research, charity and awareness.

Davies Davies’ interest in neuroscience led him to neurosurgery, which led him to pursue clinical research. After medical school, he was appointed to an academic neurosurgical training program at the University of Cambridge. He collaborated with Mark Kotter to study DCM, and together they built multinational clinical trials (NIHR POLYFIX-DCM, NIHR RECEDE-Myelopathy), a global consensus project (AO Spine RECODE DCM), the first DCM-specific charity (myelopathy.org) and a spinout producing digital biomarkers (MoveMed.io). He also developed “Myelopathy Matters,” a podcast dedicated to the disorder.

During his research and work on the RECODE project, Davies became acutely aware of the importance of diversity in creative innovation. That awareness instilled in him the desire to solve another problem that exists in spine surgery—a lack of diversity in spine surgeons. “Globally, 97% of spine surgeons are male. This is a major issue for spine surgery and spine surgery research,” Davies noted. “Affirmative action is required. This is an issue I am committed to tackling.”

Davies contributes his time to several organizations. He serves as a member of the NASS Evidence-Based Medicine Clinical Guideline Committee, contributing to the Thromboprophylaxis Guidelines update and the new Sacroiliac Joint Pain Guidelines. He also volunteers for AO Spine, Spinal Cord Injury Knowledge Forum and National (UK) Neurosurgical Audit Programme committees.

Outside of medicine, Davies prioritizes time with his wife and two children. He also enjoys sports, such as golf, cricket, rugby and skiing, as well as teaching music to his children.

Michael Steinhaus, MD

"Career Dedicated to Service, Empathy, Leading Edge Spine Care"

SteinhausMichael Steinhaus’ residency and fellowship looked different than those of most aspiring spine surgeons. Transitioning from a chief residency role to a fellowship at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, he watched the No. 1 orthopedic hospital in the country become a COVID-19 center. He and his colleagues went to work in the ICU to provide care for patients. The experience, he said, “served as a poignant reminder of the reason I went to medical school; to serve the community in whatever capacity is needed.”

Now an attending physician, Steinhaus serves the Mountain West region in Utah. With a strong interest in minimally invasive surgery and technology, he aims to transform the way spine surgery is performed in the region. He has access to one of the first robotic platforms in the state, which gives his patients the benefits of navigation and robotic surgery in an area where open surgery is still the standard. His approach is already paying off, noting “I have already seen the benefits of minimally invasive surgery, with patients spending less time in the hospital and returning to function sooner. I am proud to offer this service where patients have few options.”

Despite his leading-edge tools and techniques, Steinhaus’ philosophy of care is rooted in traditional practices. He emphasizes empathy in patient care, noting that his mentors—Todd Albert, Han Jo Kim and Sheeraz Quereshi—taught him the importance of treating patients like family.

Steinhaus has also contributed to spine care research. He has received several research grants, published more than 60 articles and book chapters, and presented from the podium and on posters at several national and international spine conferences. He also has received numerous accolades for his leadership and clinical care, including the Weill Cornell Medical Center Distinguished Housestaff Award, the Thomas P. Sculco Award, the Jean C. McDaniel Award and the Todd J. Albert Leadership Award.

In his free time, Steinhaus enjoys taking advantage of the Utah landscape with his wife and two sons, enjoying the slopes and teaching his sons to ski.

Aladine Elsamadicy, MD

"Sends the Elevator Down"

For most of Aladine Elsamadicy’s childhood, his mother and father balanced running a convenience store and raising six children while his father pursued higher education. Eventually earning a PhD in Physics, he did so without a mentor or a clear roadmap—a process that a young Aladine found impressive. And while his father’s academic achievements instilled in Aladine a true appreciation for the power of education, he couldn’t help but wonder how mentorship could’ve helped along the way. “My father always told me, ‘When you are given the opportunity to take the stairs up in life, be sure to send the elevator down.’ This is what I try to do every day I wake up,” Elsamadicy remarked.

Elsamadicy Now a Senior Neurosurgery Resident at Yale, Elsamadicy credits his own mentor—previous 20 Under 40 honoree Owoicho Adogwa—for his early successes in neurosurgery. The two met when Elsamadicy was in medical school and Adogwa in residency. “He jump-started my career interests by introducing me to outcomes research,” Elsamadicy said. “I went from not understanding what a manuscript was to publishing more than 60 papers by the time I graduated.”

In fact, Elsamadicy has authored more than 150 papers. He’s also created a neurosurgery spine outcomes lab at Yale where he mentors those following in his footsteps. “Mentorship provides an ability for those who have been able to achieve a certain stature, to help the ones under them,” he said. “To be in a position during my residency where I can help increase diversity and guide motivated students with similar backgrounds on their journey is priceless.”

Elsamadicy has presented research at the NASS Annual Meeting for the past six years and is a currently a member of NASS’ Research Funding Committee and the Resident & Fellow Education Committee. He’s also been published several times in The Spine Journal and serves as a reviewer for the association’s flagship publication.

When he’s not tending to his residency, lab and hospital duties, Elsamadicy enjoys spending time with his wife, family and friends—enjoying vacations and weekend activities that enable him to be present in his personal life and recharged for the work that continues to be invaluable to his patients, colleagues and mentees."

Lindsay Tetreault, MD

"Top Researcher Tackles Residency"

Tetreault As an undergraduate student in Toronto, Lindsay Tetreault read an article about stem cell research on spinal cord injury in her local newspaper that changed her life. She visited the lab at the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Toronto in person and was amazed by the volume and quality of research being performed under the guidance of Dr. Michael Fehlings.

Tetreault ultimately completed her master’s, PhD and a postdoctorate research fellowship at University of Toronto, developing clinical practice guidelines for spinal cord injury (SCI) management and degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) working at that same lab. “[Dr. Fehlings] provided me with countless opportunities to publish, lead projects and travel around the world to promote our work … and he continues to promote me as a scientist.”

Coupled with a desire to help patients experiencing spinal pathologies and other neurological conditions, Tetreault decided to pursue a medical degree. She excelled immediately – finishing top of the class in her first two years of medical school. She also received the Intern of the Year Award at NYU Langone.

Tetreault’s research throughout her education and clinical training has been prolific. She has spent thousands of hours advancing research on DCM and SCI. She’s published more than 120 papers as well as clinical guidelines for DCM and SCI. She served as information specialist for the RECODE project, a global effort to develop a community of DCM sufferers, close knowledge gaps about DCM and address the most pressing concerns of people with the disorder.

Currently, Tetreault is leading a project that will formulate diagnostic criteria in DCM to support primary care providers and specialists in making diagnoses. She also is leading three clinical guidelines projects.

Tetreault regularly contributes to NASS, including participation on the evidence-based guideline committee, Annual Meeting planning team and as a course faculty member. She is also developing a course that teaches how to use GRADE to rate levels of evidence and develop clinical guidelines.

Respected for her contributions to spine care, Tetreault has earned a Residents & Fellows award as well as a TSJ Outstanding Paper Award. In her free time, Tetreault enjoys board games, escape rooms and exploring whatever city she lives in.

Samuel Overley, MD

"Excellent Mentors Paved the Way"

OverleySamuel Overley always knew he wanted to pursue a career in academic medicine.

That plan was cemented during Overley’s orthopedic residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where Drs. Sheeraz Qureshi and Andrew Hecht became two influential mentors to the young physician.

“They opened my eyes to spine surgery and I immediately knew that was where I was supposed to be,” Overley said of fellow NASS members Qureshi and Hecht.

“It was my first formal rotation as a PGY-2 and I was amazed at their work. It was life-altering work. Patients came in debilitated by pain, neurologic issues or both, and often woke up from surgery with significant relief. The depth and breadth of the practice was amazing. From big open operations definitely on the macro scale, to intricate minimally invasive procedures performed through a tube no larger than your finger under the operative microscope, the vast scope of the work immediately drew me in.”

With his career path set, Overley took a job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), where he became fellowship director for complex spine fellowship at the age of 34.

“Starting a fellowship as the role of fellowship director was also a part of my 10-year plan,” he said. “I was able to accomplish this in my second year of practice which has been an amazing opportunity.”

Interestingly, Overley says the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of being an orthopedic surgeon are basically the same: figuring out what is causing pain or neurologic deficit, confirming that diagnosis and then devising the most effective and least invasive way to treat the problem.

“It's like overhauling a house which starts with finding any issues with the foundation/structure/bones of the dwelling, formulating a thoughtful blueprint that addresses all of the issues safely and effectively with longevity in mind, and finally executing the plan.”

Nitin Agarwal, MD

"Uses Life Skills Developed in Martial Arts in Spine Career"

Agarwal The practice of martial arts is tremendously important to Nitin Agarwal for several reasons. First, he credits the discipline with carving his personality and character. He credits martial arts with providing mental and physical stamina, as well as adherence to a strict honor code, all of which lend themselves to being a top-notch spine care professional.

Medicine and martial arts each provide Dr. Agarwal with the tools to give back to his local community. Prior to his residency, he owned and operated a martial arts academy – one that continued to thrive in his local community after he transferred ownership to his instructors. Running the dojo was one of his first opportunities to delve into a leadership position. When the previous owner considered closing what was then an unprofitable business, Dr. Agarwal took over and successfully revitalized the school, avoiding disappointment for his new students. Working with the students and their families, he built the studio into a thriving academy that trained over 100 students in a range of martial art disciplines. “In retrospect, I realize I had a responsibility to our close-knit community at the dojo much in the same way that I have observed my mentors and residents assume responsibility for the welfare of their patients,” Dr. Agarwal said.

His efforts in medicine are just as impressive. He has compiled and edited three books— Neurosurgery Fundamentals, Surviving Neurosurgery: Vignettes of Resilience and The Evolution of Health Literacy: Empowering Patients through Improved Education — and he will present his paper, “What are the risk factors for continued opioid use in patients following spine surgery?” at NASS’ upcoming Annual Meeting in Chicago.

While he only began his career as a faculty member in July, Dr. Agarwal is on the fast track to making an impact in his new community at Washington University in St. Louis. Working with the support of his colleagues, he has already garnered fiscal support for his research to better predict prognosis after neurotrauma and tailor interventions to augment motor and sensory recovery.

When he’s not working, Agarwal’s priority is spending time with his wife, a dermatology resident training on the other side of the country.

Daniel Kim, MD

"Striving to Introduce a National Standard of Care for All Americans"

Dr. Daniel Kim has always been fascinated with the intersection between the health care and technology fields. Growing up in Silicon Valley, he became drawn to the innovation technology offered in the surgical field, especially in spine care. His early exposure traveling and studying around the country cemented his desire to ensure more efficient and optimal quality care for his patients through the use of technology.

Kim Kim completed his fellowship at the Twin Cities Spine Center and then began practicing in Birmingham, Alabama. “I want my patients who drive in an hour from rural Alabama to get the same exact quality care in my office and OR as they would if they were in New York City, Chicago or LA.” His commitment to extending quality care to all American citizens reaches beyond just his practice. Dr. Kim is also a leader in the Birmingham Spine Club which allows young spine surgeons in the greater Birmingham area to discuss cases and support each other throughout their careers.

To further his goal of introducing a national standard of care to all Americans, Dr. Kim continues to be an active member of national societies such as NASS, SRS, CRS and SMISS. He has presented at the conferences of these societies to bring awareness to new advances in medicine that could benefit all of his patients. Dr. Kim strongly believes continuing education through courses and readings is imperative to maintain a high quality of care and he routinely engages in these practices himself.

When he is not seeing patients, Dr. Kim can be found hiking or spending time with his dog and fiancée.

Andy Stadler, MD

"Wisconsin Native Returns Home to Practice Pediatric Neurosurgery"

StadlerAfter years of schooling that took him to Northwestern and Stanford for residency and fellowships, Andy Stadler is back home. Stadler grew up outside Milwaukee and is now a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Along the way, he picked up several mentors who tremendously furthered his career.

“For spine training, I gained the most from Dr. Richard Fessler and the excellent team at Northwestern, who taught me how to thoughtfully approach even the toughest cases,” Stadler said. “I learned pediatric neurosurgery from the teams at Northwestern and Stanford, led by Dr. Tad Tomita and Dr. Gerry Grant, respectively. I would also highlight Dr. Robert Dempsey, Dr. Benny Iskandar, and the whole team in Wisconsin who give me so much of the support that allows me to do this work.”

After all those positive experiences, Stadler is doing his part to pay it forward by being a mentor himself.

“I think that everyone can and should try to mentor others,” he said. “I personally get a lot out of mentoring, learning new tricks and getting interesting perspectives I might not have considered, and refining my own thoughts. What you give and what you gain from this process changes over time of course, so being earlier in my career I am happy that I can still share a relatively ground level perspective.”

The challenges of being a pediatric neurosurgeon are numerous, but Stadler says the rewards are outstanding, too.

“Seeing a kid doing great and happily living their life, especially after facing a tough problem, is the absolute best part of my day,” he says.

In addition to his university commitments, Stadler is also a member of NASS’ Section on Minimally Invasive Procedures.

Vivek Sindhi, MD

"College Injury Sent Sindhi Toward a Medical Career"

SindhiAs a 21-year-old college student, Vivek Sindhi was lifting weights with friends and doing deadlifts when something went wrong. He had suffered an L4-5 disc herniation resulting in lumbar radiculopathy that was treated by chiropractic, physical therapy plus physiatry and orthopedic spine consultations.

He was fully recovered in six weeks and came away with a new career path.

“Since this time, my personal treatments and the significant improvement I had over time inspired me to want to help others with spine-related disorders,” Sindhi said. “I initially went to chiropractic school after undergraduate school, but decided to transfer out and go to medical school to pursue physiatry with a specialty in interventional spine care.”

Sindhi now runs a private practice, Spine and Joint Institute, in suburban Baltimore. In an era where more and more physicians are working for universities or hospitals, Sindhi is something of an outlier in private practice. When asked why he chose this path, the interventional spine and pain physician says, “The ability to set up my practice how I want and to practice medicine how I would like. I am in an opioid saturated care area and wanted to specialize in spine and pain treatment with an opioid sparing or minimizing medication approach.”

Sindhi attributes much of his spine knowledge to a NASS Interventional Spine Physiatry fellowship he completed under Dave O’Brien at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

“He taught me the majority of what I know in regard to treating spine-related disorders,” Sindhi says of O’Brien, who is the Secretary on NASS’ Board of Directors. “He influenced me to provide the best spine care I can provide. He provided insight into not only what to do, but most importantly what not to do. He influenced me to want to become a leader of spine care in my community.”

Jamie Wilson, MD

"Living His Dream"

At the age of 10, Jamie Wilson was captivated by the hit CBS hospital drama, Chicago Hope, that would ultimately inspire him to go into medicine. “I would regale my school friends with tales of cardiac bypass surgery in between soccer practices,” Wilson remarked. After studying medicine at the University of Oxford, he pursued a neurosurgery residency at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and, subsequently, a complex spine fellowship at the University of Toronto with Professor Michael Fehlings. While there, he completed an MSc in predictive analytics and big data in spine surgery, particularly as it related to aging demographics.

Wilson Over the past four years, Wilson has become an important contributor in the topic of aging, frailty and degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM). His research has been received at national and international conferences, he has contributed to book chapters and he has received start-up funding to start a clinical and basic science laboratory, where he will study muscle biomarkers and provocative assessments of frailty in adult spine surgery patients.

As the Co-director of the Comprehensive Spine Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Wilson started the state’s only robotic spine program and hopes to add Nebraska’s first endoscopic spine center in the near future. He is passionate about resident teaching and is working with his alma mater to begin a scholarship program for final-year medical students to attend UNMC for their summer elective period.

Wilson has been committed to volunteerism since childhood, beginning with his family’s nursing and care facilities and as a Royal Air Force Air Cadet in his teenage years. He is spearheading a campaign to improve access to care and surgery for elderly spine patients, and is an ambassador for the RECODE DCM effort to improve international awareness and research for DCM patients. For NASS, Wilson has presented research at Annual Meetings, serves on the Section on Spinal Cord Injury and will be a moderator at a symposium covering aging and spinal cord injury at this year’s meeting. He also is a member of the Annual Meeting Abstract Review Committee and reviews for The Spine Journal.

Outside of work, Dr. Wilson spends time with his wife and four children. He enjoys travel, music and exploring new cultures through food.

Ram Kiran Alluri, MD

"Follows Grandfather into Medicine"

Dr. Ram Kiran Alluri grew up listening to his grandfather’s stories of treating war veterans as a physical rehabilitation physician in England. This early childhood experience would become an integral moment in shaping his path as an orthopedic spine surgeon.

Alluri There was a true art to figuring out the exact anatomic cause of a given spine patient's symptomology, and this art required listening to the patient's symptoms,” he said. Alluri has taken the lessons he learned on his medical path and applied them to his practice. He focuses on an individual treatment plan tailoring an individual plan for each of his patients. He believes strongly in the patient-provider relationship to educate patients and their families so they are able to make informed decisions about their own treatment.

Outside of patient care, Alluri has been involved in several research initiatives, most notably, his work on translational strategies to improve bone regeneration, fostered by his mentor, Drs., Jay Lieberman and Jeffrey Wang. He has continued this research and is about to embark on researching the use of oxysterols to heal a critical-sized rat femoral defect model.

Alluri has an impressive number of academic accomplishments for a 34-year old, including 91 peer-reviewed publications, 1,180 citations, 146 conference presentations, eight book chapters and six funded grants.

He hopes to spark an interest in orthopedics and spine care amongst young students by serving as a mentor to several medical students and residents hoping to pursue a career in the field of spine care. Alluri also believes in the importance of giving back to the community: he has previously volunteered for the mobile clinic in Los Angeles and on the global medical brigades in Honduras, giving care to the underserved.

In his free time, he can be found spending time with his son and wife or at the golf course.

Alyssa Troutner, MD

"First Generation College Student Earns Ivy League Degree on Way to Becoming Chiropractor"

Troutner Becoming the first person in a family to attend college is one thing. Doing so at a prestigious Ivy League institution like Cornell University is another level of impressive.

But that’s just what Alyssa Troutner, DC, MS, did, en route to becoming a chiropractor in her 20s at VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System in Rochester, NY.

“Of course, my parents were immensely proud of me, and they still share their praise with me whenever they can,” she said. “When I received my acceptance letter to Cornell University, we jumped up and down in my bedroom like actors in a quintessential college movie. While moving forward on a path not familiar to my family could be viewed as a challenge, I also viewed it as a benefit: I did not have a rigid set of expectations for what my future would look like.”

Still, Troutner knows she is forging a uncommon path among medical school graduates.

“I faced a significant degree of backlash from my pre-med peers when I would proudly share my career goals,” Troutner said. “One memorable comment was that I would be ‘wasting’ my Cornell degree pursuing professional education in chiropractic medicine. As detrimental as that comment could have been, I am proud that I persisted and stayed true to my intentions.”

In July 2020, Troutner completed the Integrated Clinical Practice chiropractic residency program at VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System. A prestigious program in chiropractic circles, she was one of only five residents selected in the country for the program.

“In my opinion, chiropractic care fits into the greater spine care community by lessening the burden of spinal complaints on primary care and because well-trained chiropractors have the skillset necessary to provide highquality conservative spine care management,” she said.

Zachary Cupler, MD

"Team-Oriented Philosophy Yields Impressive Results"

Complex problems always intrigued Zachary Cupler. During his undergraduate years, he studied cellular and molecular biology, researching in yeast and muscle cell labs. Now, as a practicing chiropractor with the Butler VA Health Care System, he works with his hands, navigating the complex problems of spinal pain diagnostics while considering patients’ biopsychosocial output.

Cupler Cupler chose to pursue a chiropractic career because he wanted to provide clinical services in a team-based environment, a goal he realized in his current role with the VA. In fact, he’s particularly proud of how teamfocused his staff are at the Butler VA. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, he explained, the specialists make themselves available for others’ questions and consults. “Spine care is a complex entity and requires experts that span surgical, interventional, medical and nonpharmacological management,” Cupler noted. “I routinely provide care coordination between these various clinical experts on the spine care team with an emphasis on value-driven care. I am whole-heartedly team-oriented in the delivery of spine care.”

As an earnest supporter of evidence- and valuebased spine care, Cupler helps develop and champions resources in these areas. He contributed to the American Physical Therapy Association’s recent Low Back Pain Clinical Practice Guideline. He and his coauthors investigated manual therapy delivery in patients with a history of cervical and lumbar surgeries, an area that was previously under-represented. For NASS, Cupler serves on the Clinical Guidelines Committee, specifically working on the upcoming guidelines concerning neoplastic vertebral fractures and osteoporotic compression fractures. He also reviews for The Spine Journal.

With his free time, Cupler enjoys the outdoors, whether it be hiking, paddle boarding or gardening.

Hai Le, MD

"Motivated by Desire to Make His Immigrant Parents Proud"

After living in the rice fields of central Vietnam, Hai Le’s parents immigrated to America to give he and his six siblings a better life. Le’s father is a gardener while his mother is a retired waitress, and Le says they sacrificed everything for their seven children.

Le “I have been able to pursue every opportunity and dream imaginable,” Le said. “Growing up, they always motivated me to do something with my life that would give back to my community and help others. Given my upbringing, I pursued medicine in order to dedicate my life to caring for others. I chose a career in academic medicine to help mentor others and train the future generations of clinicians and surgeons. In particular, my practice is dedicated toward adult and pediatric spine surgery, a field in which I am truly passionate about.”

Now, Le is an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California-Davis. He has already won several awards in his young career and has published 45 manuscripts and 21 book chapters. With the benefit of several important mentors, including former NASS President Christopher Bono, Le has taken on a leadership role of his own at UC-Davis.

“I am where I am today because of my mentors who have supported and guided me,” he said. “I am most proud of my enthusiasm to give back and mentor medical students, residents and fellows. I am a mentor for the UC Davis Multiculturalism in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) Mentorship Program. Since joining UC Davis, I have made it a priority to join hands with others to increase gender and ethnic diversity in orthopedic surgery. I am a mentor for the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society (JRGOS) Mentorship Program, where I mentor African-American medical students from across the United States who are considering specializing in orthopedic surgery.”

Joseph Cox, MD

"Brings Cutting-Edge Surgery to Patients and Marine Life"

Cox Dr. Joseph Cox, a board certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in spine, gives his parents credit for his early passion for medicine. He witnessed the empathy his mother had while caring for her sick parents and the positive impact his father’s orthodontic practice had on his patients’ lives. His parents instilled in him the importance of integrity, and he attributes the resulting high moral standards he strives for today as a driving force behind the positive reputation he’s garnered in just a few years of practice along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

The trust he’s earned within the community, coupled with the exceptional education he received at the Texas Back Institute, have enabled him to bring cutting-edge spine care to the region. This, in turn, enables the community to receive world-class orthopedic care without having to travel for it. A trailblazer in the Gulf Coast area, Cox notes “from robotic navigation to introducing the prone transpoas technique to the Mississippi Gulf Coast… and even helping perform the first successful spine surgery on a shark, there have been several opportunities for me to bring firsts to our region.”

Cox contributes to his community in myriad ways. Every year, he and his partners provide nearly 1,500 free sports physical exams to local high school students. As a founding member of the Education and Research Foundation at his practice, he serves on the planning committee and helped generate a more than $30,000 donation to a local 501(c)3 charity by way of a first annual fundraiser golf tournament. He also partners with local organizations to provide pro bono care, which yielded his first sea-faring patient. “The Mississippi Aquarium reached out to me regarding Stella, a 5-foot, 90-pound sand tiger shark, after noticing an abnormal appearance of her spine and that she was having difficulty swimming. With careful planning, collaboration and donated resources, our team of 12 specialists performed the first successful spine surgery on a shark, allowing her to return to the aquarium exhibit where she became a local fan favorite for the community.”

Dr. Cox says he is only able to accomplish the things he has because of the strong support from his equally accomplished wife, Lynsey, who is an Ob/Gyn and Major in the Air Force Reserves. In his free time, Dr. Cox enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, playing guitar, golfing, fishing and enjoying coastal culture.

Zachary McCormick, MD

"Early Exposure to Health Care Leads McCormick Into Medicine"

McCormickGrowing up in Oakland, California, Zachary McCormick was around medicine from an early age. His mother, Debbie Cox, delivered babies on a labor and delivery ward as a nurse practitioner/nurse midwife in the Kaiser system for many years.

“My mother's work was definitely part of my inspiration to pursue a career in the medical field,” McCormick said. “She did not push me at all, but rather supported my own organic interest.”

Several years later, McCormick is now a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician in the University of Utah health system. He focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of spine and musculoskeletal pain conditions, with an emphasis on improving function and quality of life. McCormick’s philosophy is grounded in a multimodal, comprehensive approach that is customized to each individual patient so as to help them achieve his or her specific goals.

“I am most proud of the fact that I have been granted the opportunity to build programs that will have a positive and widespread impact on clinical spine care, medical education and the advancement of clinical science in our field,” he says. “I am grateful for leaders within my institution (University of Utah), NASS, as well as multiple other medical societies and medical journals for trusting me to do so.”

McCormick, who has been involved with NASS committees and educational programming for seven years, is currently chair of NASS’ Interventional Spine and Musculoskeletal Medicine (ISMM) Fellowship Committee.

“This effort by NASS has shifted the paradigm of sub-specialty training for the field of interventional spine in a very positive direction,” McCormick said.

In his free time, McCormick enjoys spending time with his wife and chasing around his two young children.

Adele Meron, MD

"Ice Hockey Injury Put Life in Perspective"

Meron As a physiatrist at the University of Colorado, Adele Meron frequently works with athletes. It is a natural fit for Meron, who studied biomedical engineering and played soccer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

“I have a strong interest in diagnosing and treating all athletic injuries,” Meron said. “But as a physiatrist I feel I have unique perspective on injuries of the spine, which are often overlooked in athletes or, worse, misunderstood and overtreated, forcing athletes away from sport and physical activity, and potentially turning an acute injury into a chronic one. An in-depth understanding of spine anatomy, biomechanics and pathology allows me to keep athletes healthy and on the field where they belong.”

At Colorado, Meron is intimately involved with the spine and musculoskeletal curriculum in the residency program, a role she relishes.

“I direct both the didactic and clinical courses for spine and musculoskeletal medicine and have evolved both curricula to increase hands-on procedural training and promote interdisciplinary care of patients,” she said. “I love teaching and mentoring residents as they build procedural skills, grow their confidence and clarify their career goals.”

The native New Yorker is married with two young kids, and the family loves taking advantage of the many outdoor opportunities afforded in scenic Colorado. Biking, hiking, kayaking, snowboarding and Pickleball are among the activities Meron enjoys when she is not in the office.

Additionally, Meron lists former NASS President Bill Sullivan among her mentors, along with Scott Laker, Venu Akuthota, Jason Friedrich and Rachel Brakke Holman. “They all taught me anatomy, physiology, clinical decision making and procedural skills, but more importantly, they are the kinds of doctors I aspire to be. Instead of mentoring me to mimic their own careers, they have gently steered me into my own strengths and passions to contribute my own unique skills to the field of PM&R.”

Vijay Yanamadala, MD

"Focuses on Multidisciplinary Teams to Optimize Outcomes, Deliver the Right Care to Every Patient"

Yanamadala When Vijay Yanamadala was 4 or 5 years old in India, he saw his grandfather perform general surgery. And although the young Yanamadala mostly grew up in America, his grandfather allowed him to watch his surgeries on return trips to India.

In addition, both of Yanamadala’s parents are physicians, so perhaps medicine was his calling all along. “I was specifically drawn to spine surgery in my medical training because of its intellectual rigor,” he says. “The impact we make on a patient through a well-executed spine surgery is tremendous. We also have the opportunity to work broadly as part of a multidisciplinary team of physiatrists, pain specialists, surgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists and others to deliver the right care to patients with spinal diseases. This aspect of care is truly rewarding to me as a surgeon.”

Yanamadala serves as the system medical director of spine quality at Hartford HealthCare in Connecticut. He has published more than 70 peer-reviewed publications, 25 book chapters and 45 abstracts. He also was awarded a 2017 NASS Resident and Fellow Research Award.

“I am most proud of my work on multidisciplinary teams in spine surgery,” he said. “My initial research in 2017 demonstrated that a multidisciplinary decision-making model can significantly reduce the number of surgical interventions we recommend.”

Yanamadala says he tells patients that the best surgery is no surgery. This philosophy has allowed him to endear himself to patients and accomplish a great deal despite being only 36 years old. “There is no such thing as prophylactic surgery,” he said. “Surgery should be done to address a specific problem. Before we plan a surgery, we need all of the information to understand what is causing a patient's pain or dysfunction. Our goal is always to get every patient the right care.”

Yanamadala continues to push the boundaries of innovation, also serving as Chief Medical Officer at Sword Health, a digital remote musculoskeletal care solution that serves some of the largest companies in the world to reduce physical pain for their members. He believes that digital care will significantly change the way we do spine care in the years to come.

Outside of his career, Yanamadala’s greatest pleasure has been spending time with his wife, Vidya, and oneyear-old son, Rishi.

Justin Iorio, MD

"Orthopedic Surgeon Helps Create Registry at Private Practice"

When Justin Iorio began working at the Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists in 2016, the private practice did not have a registry to track patient outcomes.

Iorio Iorio has helped change that, as the group of nearly 30 physicians in upstate New York now has a dependable registry for researching outcomes, changing practice management and proving outcomes to insurance companies.

“We can view the outcomes by type of surgery, approach, surgeon and many other variables including social and medical,” Iorio said. “This was my way of integrating academics into the private practice model. To date, the information has been used for insurance approval purposes, and insurance companies utilize outcome data for the approval process. It is also used for research purposes.”

Iorio did not always expect to be a physician. After graduating from college, he took a job researching enotransplantation (pig to baboon organ transplants) with a few surgeons. From there, he became interested in medical school and a few years later was learning about complex deformity in the OR at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.

“Obtaining a medical degree was never part of my life plan,” he said. “I was interested in various careers with no real specific aim, primarily in microbiology and history. I’m surprised about where I ended up, but it’s a pleasant surprise.”

Iorio credits much of his success to mentors Drs. Han Jo Kim and Todd Albert from his spine fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “The inimitable Dr. Kim for his technical skills, surgical planning and thoroughness. Dr. Albert for his ineffable ability to connect with patients and provide utmost optimism, which I strive to achieve every day.”