20 Under 40

20 Under 40

Meet the 2023 20 Under 40 Class

The SpineLine Editorial Board and staff offer an enthusiastic congratulations to the 6th annual 20 Under 40 class.

This year’s class of honorees once again represents a wide array of specialties, backgrounds and exceptional talent.

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

Abduljabbar Alhammoud MD, MSc

Alhammoud Finds His Mission in Spine Care

When your medical training begins in a war zone with limited resources, you recognize the importance of highly specialized surgeons and the importance of giving back. For Abduljabbar Alhammoud, his training began in Syria during the Syrian War, and he has spent the last 10 years training to treat complex spine conditions. He’s also been making a positive impact wherever he lands.

He started his job at the University of Arizona after a long training journey. He has completed spine fellowships at Upstate Medical University, Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Hamad Medical Corporation in Doha, Qatar. He has been awarded traveling fellowships from NASS (2017) and AO Spine (2019). He has also been certified by the American Board of Spine Surgery.

In addition to his commitment to education and training, Alhammoud is a prolific researcher. He has 47 publications in peer-reviewed journals and 30 abstracts internationally. He was recently named a Promising Young Researcher for the third consecutive year by his previous institute in Qatar. He has a Master’s degree in Clinical Research from the combined Harvard/Dresden University program. He also co-founded the Virtual Spine Surgery Research Academy, a virtual nonprofit volunteering academy.

Despite his numerous commitments, Alhammoud stresses the importance of helping those who got him to where he is today. He is an active member of the Syrian American Medical Society, a foundation that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries. Early next year, he will be a part of the first spine and scoliosis mission to help Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan. This will be his second mission trip, having volunteered on a year-long mission to northern Syria with Doctors Without Borders in 2013. He even gives back to his NASS community as a member of the Member Feedback Committee and International Benefits Work Group.

In his free time, Alhammoud enjoys spending time with his wife, training for the US Masters decathlon, and cooking Middle Eastern foods.

Massiel Alvarado Morales, MD

Alvarado Morales Blazes Trails in Spine Care, Life

Massiel Alvarado Morales’s path to spine care began during her last year of medical school in Costa Rica. She was assigned to work in the neurosurgery department and fell in love with the way that clinical symptoms correlate with images—X-rays, CT scans, MRIs—guiding the practitioner to the correct diagnosis.

Specializing in spine came later. "There was a huge need for spine surgeons at my hospital. I knew I had to do something to help people, so I reached out for a scholarship available through Latin American Federation of Neurosurgery, which allowed me to train as a spine surgeon at the Universitair Ziekenhuis in Gent, Belgium."

This journey led to Alvarado Morales becoming the first woman to be officially certified as a spine surgeon by the College of Physicians of Costa Rica. "I represent a minority in various ways, as a woman spine surgeon in Central America. Although there are huge limitations I can only see these factors as motivations," she notes.

Alvarado Morales views her role both as a perpetual student and educator. "I’m always educating myself and others, not only my colleagues but also my patients. I look at myself as a doctor but also as a friend, someone my patients can trust and reach out for help."

She gives back to her local community as the Vice President of the Foundation for Research of Neuroscience and Social Wellness, wherein she provides access to medical attention for neurological diseases of the brain and spine, promotes educational programs, and eradicates discrimination against patients.

When she’s not in practice or working with the Foundation, Alvarado Morales enjoys spending time with her three Dobermans and trekking in Costa Rica. She also is an experienced mountain climber, having summited Kilimanjaro in 2021 and walked the Everest Base Camp Trekking Trail in 2022.

Bryce Basques, MD, MHS

Basques Passing Along Passion for Research

Bryce Basques knew he wanted to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery as a Yale medical student, citing "the ability to restore function to patients despite highly debilitating conditions" as a motivating factor. The focus on spine surgery came a bit later, but he was drawn to the complexity, high stakes and rapidly evolving nature of the subspecialty.

While at Yale, Basques had a strong mentor in Jonathan Grauer, who runs a highly productive research lab at the university. It was here that Basques learned about the research process and how to take research from ideas to completion. Basques cites Grauer’s unwavering support and encouragement as inspirational to his career, noting that working with Grauer "solidified my interest in spine surgery and passion for clinical research. Through residency, fellowship, and clinical practice, I have tried to carry his lessons forward when mentoring my junior colleagues."

Now an Assistant Professor at Brown University, Basques has the privilege of training medical students, residents, and fellows in research and the art of clinical practice in spine. He finds satisfaction in teaching the research process, noting how much he enjoys "instilling in them a deep curiosity about our field and giving them the tools to advance their knowledge. Watching my mentees reach their career goals and become mentors themselves is incredibly rewarding."

Basques has been named the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Brown, having performed the university’s first robotic spine surgery, first outpatient MIS TLIF, first outpatient lateral interbody fusion, and developing a standardized multimodal pain management protocol across the spine division. He’s also significantly increased the volume of outpatient spine surgeries since arriving in Providence.

Despite his busy caseload and mentoring the next generation of spine surgeons, Basques has kept up with research. He currently has more than 140 peer-reviewed publications indexed on PubMed. A longtime NASS member, he has regularly presented his research at NASS’ Annual Meetings, and is a member of the Clinical Practice Guidelines and Research Funding Committees.

When Basques is not caring for patients, mentees, or volunteering his time with NASS, he can be found spending time with his family biking, skiing, or at the beach.

Daniel E. Choi, MD, FAAOS

Choi Forges Independent Trail in Era of Consolidation

In the US, massive consolidated health systems have become the norm. However, just three years into his career as an orthopedic surgeon, Daniel Choi saw the need for an alternative and opened the doors to a new independent practice Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island. "As health care consolidation continues to increase in our country, I believe that it is critical to maintain private practice as a viable practice option to maintain robust practice opportunities for young surgeons and meet patient demand."

Two and a half years after opening his private practice on Long Island, Choi employs 25 staff including three total physicians. He also offers physicians a partnership track, noting, "I’m dedicated to growing this practice to offer young surgeons in my community another option that is unique from those offered by the health systems and private equitybacked groups."

Choi attributes his ability to build a thriving practice to establishing a reputation as a safe and effective surgeon within his community. He further notes that his advocacy efforts and wide-ranging social media presence have aided his efforts. Leaning into the latest technologies is another area where Choi stands apart from his local competitors—he was the first surgeon in Long Island to perform a dual portal endoscopic laminectomy.

Giving time to support the medical community is important to Choi. Last year, he presented at the NASS Annual Meeting on the topic of starting an independent practice. He has advocated on behalf of physicians via the AMA, AAOS, the Medical Society of the State of New York and NASS. He has been incredibly active in lobbying for physician-friendly provisions in the No Surprises Act and has spoken on podcasts for Becker’s and Accad and Koka about the topic. He also helped found the Association for Healthcare Social Media to help guide professionals on best practices for their public-facing social media platforms.

In his free time, Choi spends time with his family. He particularly enjoys taking his two young daughters to Disney World and watching them improve their tennis games.

Hoon Choi, MD, PhD, FAANS

Surgeon-Engineer Choi Inspired By His Father

Growing up in South Korea and New Zealand, Hoon Choi observed as his father, MC Charles Choi, practiced as a neurosurgeon. The younger Choi was intrigued by medicine, and he originally planned to become a brain tumor surgeon.

Eventually, he developed a greater interest in spine surgery and biomedical engineering, and now serves as Chief of Spine Surgery at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, FL.

"I admired his work as a child," Hoon Choi said of his father. "He wanted me to pursue whatever I was passionate about. Given the commitment and dedication required to become a neurosurgeon, he let me pursue it on my own. Once he recognized that I was a great fit, he has been supportive and proud throughout my journey."

With a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering obtained during neurosurgery residency, Choi has chosen a path as a surgeon/engineer. After his spine surgery fellowship he completed a PhD in biomedical engineering while working as an attending neurosurgeon. He conducted research as an engineer under Prof. Narayan Yoganandan in a DOD-funded biomechanics lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Since then, Choi started a translational engineering lab for spine surgery and a spine surgery fellowship at Cleveland Clinic Florida.

"My practice involves significant percentages of international patients and physician patients who appreciate a systematic biomechanical and minimally invasive approach to surgical spinal pathology," he said.

"Just as a race car driver can become a better driver if one understands how the race car works, I believe a spine surgeon can become a better surgeon if one understands the spine biomechanics and engineering principles behind spine instrumentation. I have followed my love for surgery and technology over the years and I have ended up being both a spine neurosurgeon and an engineer."

Christine M. DiPompeo, MD

Early Exposure to Sports Medicine Led DiPompeo to Orthopedics

As a high school student in suburban Chicago, Christine M. DiPompeo spent time in the athletic training room after school, where she helped tape athletes for practices and games. She also covered games and tournaments with the school’s certified athletic trainer, allowing her to gain a deeper understanding of the job.

Those experiences piqued her interest in medicine, and she later completed an orthopedic surgery residency at Southern Illinois University in Springfield, IL.

"It was during those next five years that I was able to work alongside a handful of spine surgeons in a private, academic setting which really allowed my passion for spine surgery to develop," DiPompeo said of her orthopedic residency. "My program was smaller with several orthopedic spine surgeons who had differently tailored practices, so I gained exposure to trauma, adult degenerative, adult, and pediatric deformity cases throughout my training."

Now, DiPompeo is a practicing orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedic Center in Peoria, IL. She says that when she first decided to become an orthopedic surgeon, she didn’t realize how few women were involved in the specialty. But it has not affected her drive and determination.

"I have never let the thought of being the only woman at the table stop me from pursuing what I am passionate about," she says. "That determination, passion to help my patients, and desire to help others achieve their goals are some of my key attributes."

DiPompeo, who has been a member of NASS’ Coding Committee since 2021, says her first spine rotation with Joseph Williams, MD, in Springfield, IL was impactful in her early career.

"His ability to be honest, down to earth, and take time in clinic with patients while also being meticulous in the OR has truly shaped the surgeon that I am today."

James Eubanks, MD, DC, MS

Mentor Helped Eubanks Transition From Chiropractor to Physiatrist

James Eubanks was preparing for his final year of varsity lacrosse as a senior in high school in Charlotte, NC, when stomach pain sent him to the hospital. There, he was informed that he needed emergent surgery to remove potentially life-threatening peritonitis brewing in his small bowel, a consequence of an unusual presentation of Crohn’s disease that had developed insidiously despite its severity.

"This early experience with illness framed my awareness of the patient experience and ignited my desire to pursue a career in clinical medicine," he said.

Eubanks, a physiatrist and assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedics & Physical Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), was a chiropractor before his mentor, Dr. Craig D. Brigham, encouraged him in 2011 to pursue an MD.

"I wanted to help a more diverse patient population, increase my scope of practice to address a wider variety of health problems, and advance my knowledge and skills," Eubanks said. "Additionally, I wanted to become a thought leader within the spine community and champion change at the highest levels."

Eubanks began traveling to Boston to spend time with Dr. James Rainville, a friend of Brigham’s and a spine physician at New England Baptist Hospital. Brigham, who passed away in 2013, left an indelible mark on Eubanks and he is forever grateful for his mentor’s guidance.

"Craig was an extraordinary physician, surgeon, mentor, and friend," he said. "He was an interesting and inspiring human being who continues to inform who I am today. The sheer amount of time he invested in me is a testament of his selfless dedication to our shared vision for spine care, and serves to show just how much he valued education as an investment in society’s future. His investment in me certainly ensured my growth and development, and primed me for a successful medical career ahead."

Juanita Garces, MD, FAANS

Garces Shapes Her Own Path to Spine Care

Juanita Garces had full aspirations of becoming a neurosurgeon from a very early age, but these dreams seemed unfathomable given the stark reality of growing up as a migrant worker. She was helping her family gather crops from various farms across the United States ever since she could walk. Regular attendance in school was all but impossible, but Garces understood education was the ticket to a better life. For most, the stereotypical path of never finishing high school would be unavoidable, but Garces proved a talented and dedicated student, ultimately graduating as high school valedictorian.

The honor came with more than the title—she was also awarded a free year of tuition to college, which she took advantage of with a full course load and a position in a research lab. Surviving in those years wasn’t easy though— she often had to get by however she could, from selling plasma for gas money to working tough shift jobs to make ends meet, all while focusing on her final goal in medicine.

Garces pursued neuroscience and worked towards neurosurgery while in medical school through networking and extensive research. She completed her residency, then pursued a fellowship in complex spine deformity and adult scoliosis with her mentor, Christopher Shaffrey. She found deep inspiration in helping people who had severe spinal disease and scoliosis.

In her San Antonio, TX practice, Garces is able to provide high quality care for her majority Hispanic population in both English and Spanish. She notes that her patients "have children who were my age translating for their parents," reminding her of her own childhood. Garces gives back to her community by focusing on those in need and helping expand the educated population. She hopes to inspire these young children of minority background to consider medicine.

She also loves to inspire and mentor young women who are interested in a career in neurosurgery. She recalls, "A patient’s daughter saw my picture, and gushed to her mother, ‘I didn’t know we could do that!’ I love inspiring the minds of ambitious young women and I hope she carries forward knowing she really can do anything. Garces has a loving husband and two young children, balancing her career and family life.

Stephanie Halloran, DC, MS

Halloran’s Career Path Leads to Impressive Trail Blazing

Stephanie Halloran’s career as a spine provider began, perhaps counterintuitively, with knee pain she developed while running in high school. This led to a successful stint at a local rehab facility with chiropractors and physical therapists—she recovered without missing a practice. Her positive experience made her consider athletic training, kinesiology, and personal training, before she found her home in chiropractic care.

Halloran assumed her career would focus on athletes until the 2014 Student American Chiropractic Association Leadership Conference, when she heard about a threeyear pilot for chiropractic residency programs with the VA system. She pursued the residency and was one of the first 25 people to graduate from an accredited chiropractic VA Residency Program. Following her residency, she completed a postdoctoral research fellowship—one of few chiropractors to do so. Now established in her career, she serves as a staff clinician and on a research team investigating the best ways to provide care for chronic low back pain.

Halloran is particularly proud of the circuitous journey she’s taken to reach this stage of her career. Although she had a specific career path in mind, she remained open to other opportunities that took her in a significantly different direction. Being open to opportunities within her residency opened up even more nontraditional paths, and blazed a trail for chiropractors who will come after her.

Halloran serves as the vice chair of the NASS Membership Committee and is a member of the Political Engagement Committee and SpinePAC—traveling to Washington, DC for fly-ins on three separate occasions.

In her free time, Halloran loves spending time hiking, kayaking, and spending time outdoors. Having considered a career in the culinary arts before pursuing medicine, she also enjoys cooking. She recently summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and took a cooking class in Zanzibar.

Brian Karamian, MD

Karamian’s Story Is Transition from Cars to Medicine

As a kid in Orange County, CA, Brian Karamian’s older brother was an automotive mechanic. Like most younger kids, he was drawn to what his older sibling was doing, and a love of cars was born.

"I was wrenching on cars before I could even drive them," he said. "I found a true passion in fixing and modifying cars. It was my first introduction into being a diagnostician. I enjoyed problem solving and using a little bit of ingenuity when things weren’t going to plan, and the sense of accomplishment from tactile work."

As Karamian got older, he yearned for something more impactful and intellectually stimulating. "Having no idea what orthopedics was going into medical school, my jaw hit the floor when I saw surgeons using the same tools that I used in my garage, albeit sterile, in the operating room as a first-year medical student," he recalled.

"Needless to say, my path was chosen for me. To this day, I still draw parallels between my experience as an automotive mechanic and my career as a spine surgeon, as both a technician and diagnostician."

Now an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Utah Health, Karamian has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, written numerous book chapters, won a NASS Best Paper Award, and a NASS Resident and Fellow Research Award. He is excited to be at the forefront of moving spine surgery through its next phases of innovation and technology.

"As faculty at a large academic institution, I am focused and dedicated to teaching, research, and innovation," Karamian said. "Relative to other subspecialties, I believe spine surgery remains in its infancy and will significantly change over the coming decades. My decision to become a spine surgeon also came with a commitment to be a pioneer and on the forefront of transformation, through the education and training of residents and fellows, primary research, and device design."

Justin M. Lantz, DPT

Lantz’ Background in Athletics Led Him to Orthopedic Care

As a kid growing up in the Chicagoland area, Justin Lantz was a dedicated athlete. He competed in basketball, baseball, football, and track, but eventually found his athletic calling with wrestling.

Lantz qualified for the freestyle state finals as a high school wrestler in Illinois, and later became immersed in weight lifting and bodybuilding. He believes this athletic background and training led him on the path to becoming a spine care provider.

"I naturally gravitated toward orthopedics; however, my patients with spinal disorders consistently became some of the most challenging cases to manage," Lantz said. "Over the years, I observed growing numbers of patients with chronic spine pain who had failed multiple forms of conservative, interventional, and surgical management. These were the patients that had ‘nowhere else to go’ and had lost faith in the medical system."

Lantz has done all he can to assist those patients. He obtained his Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from Northwestern University, became board certified in orthopedic physical therapy, and later completed his fellowship training at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC).

He currently holds a dual appointment as an associate professor of Clinical Physical Therapy and Clinical Family Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), and is the Director of USC’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program. Lantz is very active in training USC’s MD/DPT students, residents, and fellows in interdisciplinary collaboration and how to utilize best evidence for diagnosis and treatment of spinal disorders. He also leads research regarding postoperative management in spine surgery with the hopes of establishing future clinical practice guidelines to improve patient outcomes and care delivery.

Lantz is also heavily involved with NASS as a member of the Clinical Practice Guideline Committee, Early Career Advisory Council, Section on Interdisciplinary Spine, and a reviewer for The Spine Journal.

Alexander Lemons, MD, FAAOS

Lemons Sees Challenges and Opportunities in Spine Care

Alexander Lemons does not choose the easy path. He pursued spine as a specialty specifically because he heard people talk about the difficulty in treating spine patients while he was in training. While others would shy away, he viewed it as an opportunity and made it his mission to challenge himself and provide the best care for each individual patient. "I relish the challenge spine surgery patients present but I maintain compassion while working through those challenges," he notes.

Lemons is guided by three main tenets in his practice: humility, honesty, and respect. Humility is a key trait for surgeons, he asserts, as spine surgery is a humbling specialty by nature. He finds it is critical to remain humble and committed to patients. Honesty is another of his core traits and he believes it is important to stay committed to truths even when they are difficult. Lastly, Lemons views respect for all as key to his success. "This ranges from colleagues, to patients, to the person mopping the OR between cases," he says. "I respect everyone I encounter. This, in turn, has afforded me great respect from staff in the hospital and clinic."

Although he is ensconced in a Pinehurst, NC private practice, Lemons maintains his connection to research and academics. He is currently the principal investigator on an FDA investigational device exemption (IDE) and a sub-investigator on another. An active researcher, he has presented globally and been involved in a study that resulted in a new FDA designation for a device.

Lemons gives back to the community through charity golf tournaments and events—and is particularly engaged in supporting veterans and active duty military. When he’s not in practice, researching, or giving back to his community, Lemons enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, golfing, and experimenting with his barbeque smoker.

Alex P. Michael, MD

Michael Combines Passion for Surgery, Aerospace and Telemedicine

Growing up in St. Louis, Alex P. Michael was fascinated with spaceflight and once envisioned a career in aeronautics. However, he later discovered that he could fulfill multiple interests and make an impact in various fields throughout his lifetime. Michael proudly states, "I have managed to fulfill my childhood dreams in my own way while creating a successful career in surgery."

Presently practicing as a neurosurgeon at Mercy Clinic in St. Louis, Michael is the national medical director of teleneurosurgery for Access Telecare. He has had the privilege of collaborating with renowned physicians and researchers at NASA and was the main editor for the first textbook on Spaceflight and the Central Nervous System. "Through collaboration with researchers and clinicians in the United States and abroad, we have compiled the current knowledge on the physiological changes that occur in the spine and nervous system following prolonged spaceflight," Michael said.

Furthermore, he has adapted the telehealth concepts employed in aerospace medicine to facilitate remote access to neurosurgical care for patients. Michael’s teleneurosurgery initiative ensures that small hospitals can benefit from the same level of neurosurgical expertise found in larger cities, enhancing patient outcomes by providing faster access to care across the United States.

Beyond his practice, Michael serves as the chair of NASS’ Public Affairs Committee. In this capacity, he leads projects such as the SpineLine podcasts, spine care campaigns, and social media content, all aimed at educating the public. "Having been instilled with values of modesty and respect, I have discovered that the best leaders seek opportunities to serve others," he said. "By developing mutual respect within the patient care team, we ensure better care for our patients."

Jacob Rohrs, MD

Rohrs Inspiring Future Generations of Physicians

When Jacob Rohrs’ mother, Sandy, was 20 years old, she escorted two babies who had been adopted by American families so she could move to the United States. Although she loved science and medicine, she lacked the financial means necessary to pursue it as a career in her home country of South Korea.

After arriving in the United States, she met Timothy Rohrs and they were married shortly after. Sandy encouraged Timothy to pursue a career in physical therapy, which he did—ultimately opening up what would become the family business. As a teenager, Jacob worked weekends and summers—first cleaning and doing laundry, then helping patients set up therapy treatments. He enjoyed working with patients and couldn’t help but be inspired by his parents’ passion for medicine.

That passion resulted in strong motivation that propelled Rohrs to accomplish so much in his early career. During his residency, as the youngest in his program, Rohrs was named Chief Resident. He was serving in this role during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, guiding his team through an intense period. He became an attending before the age of 30 and is currently a teaching attending in a fellowship at Barrow Brain and Spine.

But what Rohrs is most proud of is the impact he’s made educating future physicians. "There is a tradition of responsibility in care that is becoming more of a lost art in medicine. I am truly proud that I can pass that legacy on to future generations of physicians and influence the way care is delivered in the community."

Rohrs also gives back to the NASS community as a member of the Online Content Committee. He also filmed an episode of Ask the Experts on Medical vs Surgical Management of Sonovial Cysts.

In his free time, Rohrs enjoys challenging himself in the kitchen, hiking, exercising, and following the US National Soccer Team.

Renee Rosati, DO

Rosati Already Has Worldly Adventures, Blossoming Career

Renee Rosati graduated from Texas Christian University with honors as a Spanish and Latino Studies major. She had six months before medical school started and figured, why not move to Spain for a while?

"I booked a one-way flight to Sevilla, Spain, signed up for acrylic painting classes, and landed a job as a historic walking tour guide of a city that I (initially) knew nothing about," Rosati says. "During my daily 3-hour walking tours, I met interesting travelers from all walks of life."

After completing her PM&R interventional spine fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta, Rosati began her career at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) as an assistant professor in the Orthopedics department in Charleston before the age of 30.

"I am one of the few fellowship-trained female interventional spine specialists in academic medicine," says Rosati, who moderates a NASS podcast series on interventional spine anecdotes and nuances of practice, hosting interviews with experts across the country.

Rosati has noticed that there are not many female role models involved in interventional spine.

"I have had supportive mentors along my entire course of training who understood my goals and connected me with opportunities to work hard," says Rosati, who is a member of NASS’ Public Affairs Committee and Governance Committee. "We are a product of our mentors and I am grateful for those who recognized potential in me along my journey."

She says her philosophy of care is facilitating patients’ return to activities they love. She is also interested in how music, art, and nature can play a role in the rehabilitation process. She is currently researching how integrating technology can enhance patient expectations prior to procedures with personalized videos.

G. Sunny Sharma, MD

Sharma is One of First Physicians to Perform Basivertebral Nerve Ablation in Dallas/Fort Worth Area

Despite just recently celebrating his 35th birthday, G. Sunny Sharma is proud to be among the first dozen physicians in the large Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area to perform the IntraceptTM basivertebral nerve ablation procedure.

Sharma, a physiatrist, is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and an interventional spine physician in the Multidisciplinary Spine Center at the University of Texas-Southwestern. He is also associate program director of the NASS-recognized ISMM fellowship.

"My colleague and I helped gain basivertebral nerve ablation approval at our institution," Sharma said. "We are constantly evaluating new technologies and treatment options to help improve our patients’ symptoms and quality of life. I authored an article on our UTSW medical blog about the procedure and I help educate our community about this and other treatment options through our monthly spine center community lecture series, which I moderate."

Academically, Sharma said he was passionate about science, medicine and technology, and knew he wanted to combine the three in his career. "I specialize in the interventional treatment of spine, sports, and musculoskeletal conditions," he said. "I knew I wanted to pursue a career in academic medicine as this will allow me to apply my knowledge to care for my patients, perform medical research, and teach the next generation of young physicians."

Sharma, who is a member of NASS’ Coverage Committee, grew up in Houston where he once had a chance to take the basketball court during halftime of a Houston Rockets NBA game. A high school basketball player at the time, he was one of 16 players in a 3-point shooting contest who advanced to the semifinal round on the Rockets’ court.

"It’s a fun story to tell since I was able to play on the basketball court of my favorite team," he said.

Gabriel A. Smith, MD

Smith Advances Neurosurgical Care in Northeast Ohio

Gabriel Smith’s path to medicine began while doing college volunteer work when he noticed the sense of purpose and compassion in the physicians he was shadowing. Although he initially planned for a career in orthopedic surgery, a four-week rotation on the neurosurgical service caring for spine trauma victims made it clear that neurosurgery would be his life’s work.

Smith also found that satisfaction in treating patients. He believes in treating patients like family and doing the smallest surgery to fix the problem. He believes in engaging his patients and building their confidence in the plan. "Be approachable and answer every question they have. Explain to them surgery is a team sport and this is a journey they are on with you," he said.

At 38 years old, Smith is an undeniable leader in the field. In 2019, he was appointed as University Hospitals Health System’s (UHHS) Spine Institute Director, overseeing medial and surgical spine services across the entire 23-hospital system. He laid out an ambitious 5-year plan to enhance spine surgical services across Northeast Ohio, which included recruiting three new surgeons, restructuring deployment to target markets, implementing new access strategies to improve surgical conversion, and bringing new transformative technology to the surgical services. Two years ago, they founded a center of excellence and a travel program for spine surgery.

Despite all of the changes he implemented through his role as the institute director, Smith is equally proud of obtaining unanimous approval to certify the organization’s spine fellowship. Now Fellowship Director for the Neurosurgical Spine Fellowship at UHHS, a top 40 neurosurgical training program, "training those who come after us is one of the most meaningful parts of my career," he notes.

Despite his many career obligations, Smith gives back to his local, medical, and NASS communities. He is involved with his children’s school district, participates in mentorship programs for students interested in neurosurgery, and serves on the NASS CME and Clinical Practice Guideline Committees, as well as the Early Career Advisory Council.

Smith’s free time is largely centered around his wife and three children. The family enjoys sporting events, extracurricular activities, and travel.

Courtney Toombs, MD

Toombs Had Book Published in College Before Switching Focus to Medicine

As an undergraduate student at Princeton, Courtney Toombs was accepted into the Ivy League school’s prestigious Creative Writing thesis program. At the time, she had just coauthored her first book, The Notebook Girls: Four Friends, One Diary, about shared experiences of growing up in a post-9/11 New York City.

She had thoughts about becoming a professional writer, but instead began pursuing a career in psychiatry. Before medical school, Toombs volunteered at Bellevue Hospital’s Emergency Department and performed cardiology research at the Manhattan VA. That experience led to a research position in orthopedic spine surgery at NYU Langone.

"I jumped at the opportunity to work within a field that I had new interest in," Toombs said. "Through my research position, I was able to discover how spine surgery was at the nexus of my interests in psychiatry and hands-on surgical care. Both fields are very dependent on the individual style and skills of the practitioner: no two psychiatrists or surgeons provide the same exact treatment."

During this time Toombs began her strong interest in clinical research, which extended throughout her training. Through research, she found a new outlet for her writing and communications skills. Her research has largely focused on adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and adult spine surgery outcomes, with contributions to the publication of a novel orthopedic oncology procedure for pelvic metastatic lesions using kyphoplasty techniques.

Toombs attended NYU for medical school and Yale for orthopedic surgery residency. She was the first woman to receive an orthopedic spine fellowship from Yale. She completed her fellowship at NYU and remains affiliated with NYU through her private practice.

"I am proud to advance the careers of female spine surgeons for future generations," said Toombs, who practices at Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island. "With my nontraditional background, I am proof that other interests, skills and passions are an asset in medicine and should not be discouraged for future surgeons."

Toombs said that because of her background in psychology and the arts, she believes that patients require a holistic approach to their care, beyond just a surgical intervention. "Spine surgeons treat pain and disability, so they need to understand how the patients entire being affects their disease and their outcomes," she said.

Aditya Vedantam, MD

Vedantam’s Career Emphasizes Roots and Research

As a child growing up in India, Aditya Vedantam looked up to his father, Vedantam Rajshekhar, a pioneering neurosurgeon in the country. Dr. Rajshekhar established himself as a leading surgeon-scientist via a combination of research and surgical expertise. Vedantam was inspired by his father and went on to emulate his father’s career.

As a practicing neurosurgeon, Vedantam has successfully integrated research with his surgical expertise. At just 38 years old, he is on the path to setting up an independently funded research lab and is dedicated to studying advanced spinal cord imaging in spinal cord injury and degenerative cervical myelopathy. Last year, he was awarded the NASS Young Investigator Grant to study spinal cord stress and strain in degenerative cervical myelopathy.

Vedantam has also set up a degenerative cervical myelopathy clinical and research program at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "This program has also helped bring clinical and research faculty together to create innovative translational research protocols for degenerative cervical myelopathy. Degenerative cervical myelopathy is a widely prevalent but understudied disease, and one that spine surgeons commonly treat. In addition to improving outcomes for these patients, my efforts aim to increase awareness and interest in this disease in the institution and beyond," he notes.

Despite all of his success in the US, Vedantam has not forgotten his roots. He initiated a monthly virtual joint Grand Rounds between his department and the Neurosurgery Department at his alma mater, Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore, India. "This international educational venture has generated an excellent forum for knowledge exchange which has benefited both our local surgical community as well as our partner institution in India," he said. "Both communities benefit from the exchange of ideas and expertise."

When not in practice or his lab, Vedantam spends time with his family, and enjoys cooking and travel.

Andrew S. Zhang, MD

Zhang Learned Work Ethic from Immigrant Parents and Potomac River

Andrew Zhang grew up in a family where his parents worked 365 days a year at their restaurant in New Haven, CT. There, he spent countless hours meticulously cutting vegetables, repeatedly folding wontons, and working the front, where he cultivated long-lasting relationships with the community.

The examples set by his parents were life lessons in discipline, hard work, and taking pride in one’s craft. But Zhang yearned for something bigger.

He was raised with his mother’s stories of her upbringing in rural China, sometimes lacking food, clean water and certainly no reliable health care.

"I knew I wanted to do more, I wanted to help people," Zhang said. "I wanted to be a doctor."

Zhang became the first person in his family to attend college, graduating from institutions including Brown and Harvard. An accomplished athlete excelling in baseball and track, he tried out for George Washington’s Division 1 Heavyweight Crew team despite never rowing before, and successfully made the roster, which he attributes to persistence, determination and hundreds of hours alone on an erg before and after practice.

"Lessons I’ve learned growing up in a Chinese restaurant and 4:00 a.m. practices on the Potomac River have ensured that I am prepared," he said of his training in orthopedic surgery and life as an academic spine surgeon.

After fellowship, Zhang was recruited back to Ochsner-LSU Health in Shreveport, LA, to become Chief of Spine Surgery and Associate Residency Program Director of his own former orthopedic surgery program. He takes pride in caring for the local underserved population, giving back to the community and being a mentor for residents, medical students and high school students.

"I’ve strived to make the same world-class level of spine surgery available to my patients of rural Louisiana as the patients in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, or Chicago, regardless of ability to pay or travel," he said.