NASS On Spine


June 04, 2019


Q&A With John H. Shin, MD


1. What is your hometown and where do you currently live?


I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and currently live in Boston, Massachusetts. I am particularly excited that the NASS Annual Meeting is in Chicago this fall as it is a great time of year to be in Chicago.


2. What type of physician are you? How long have you been practicing?


I am a neurosurgeon and have been practicing at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, in Boston since 2011. I completed the combined neuro-ortho complex spine fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic in 2011 and have been in Boston since. As a neurosurgeon, my practice is exclusively dedicated to the treatment of spinal disorders, with a focus on adult spinal deformity and spine oncology.


3. How long have you been a NASS member and why did you join?


I have been a NASS member since fellowship and joined because of the multidisciplinary emphasis of the society. One of the main takeaways from my fellowship was the tremendous value in multidisciplinary collaboration, education, research and training. Collaborating with peers in related fields of orthopedics, physiatry, rehab and pain continues to help me grow as a physician and surgeon. In my practice, I strive to be as inclusive as possible, drawing upon the expertise and skills of others. For example, when operating on challenging spinal deformities or primary tumors, we are increasingly operating as co-surgeon teams.

As a kid growing up in Chicago, it was exhilarating to witness the rise of the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, but MJ could not get past the Pistons or Knicks alone. He needed the likes of Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr and Randy Brown to name a few to maximize their potential.


4. As chair of NASS’ recent Spinal Tumors course, you did a great job promoting the course via social media. Do you think this is an important modern tool to promote medical courses and associations in general?


We had a great time organizing and putting together the recent NASS Spinal Tumors course. The course would not have been possible without the dedication of the faculty and participants alike, but also the administrative team at NASS led by Meagan Gilliland-Johnson. The team at NASS was instrumental in making this a success and it was a lot of fun working together. With regards to social media, I have been interested in how physicians use these platforms in their practices, whether it be for marketing, education, or outreach. For this course, I experimented with using social media platforms such as twitter to not only highlight the course, but also to engage with the global audience. As a matter of fact, it was pretty cool to see that people from all over the world interfaced with the various tweets in some way, whether it was responding to the case presentations or clicking the link to NASS and the course website.

For this meeting, we posted challenging cases as teasers almost daily in the weeks leading up to the course. We noticed a high level of interest and engagement. Some commented that they would not be able to make the course due to distance, but would seek out future NASS meetings now that they were aware. I also used it to promote the faculty and their respective institutions to help draw participants in. I did this by linking various videos of the faculty to the tweets to give the audience a taste of the level of didactic and engagement they could look forward to. This way, the institutions and practices would recognize their staff, and also the work being done at NASS. It was exciting to see other major institutions liking and retweeting our posts to their followers.

I have been following the level of engagement of various spine societies with social media and there is definitely room for growth and development. In this overscheduled, digitized, cloud-based era, it seems there is a need for brief, to-the-point information, and this may be an opportunity for societies like NASS to not only broaden their outreach, but grow its membership, impact, and standing as a multidisciplinary spine specialty society. For example, I get tweets on meeting information, abstract deadlines, newly published articles, and highlighted spine-related content that helps keep me current.


5. What have your experiences been with social media as it relates to your medical practice? A lot of physicians seem wary of it, but how can it be a positive?


I use social media primarily as a vehicle to promote and recognize the accomplishments of colleagues and trainees. I think it is a great way to highlight the work being done, especially if it can help direct the audience to helpful resources. It has also been useful as a tool to highlight our clinical and research programs.


6. As a member of the Section on Spine Oncology, what are you hoping to accomplish during your time with the Section?


This is an exciting new section and it is great working with colleagues across various specialties – neurosurgery, orthopedics, physiatry, radiation oncology, and pain medicine to name a few. I am thrilled to be a part of it. We have an ambitious agenda that seeks to capitalize on the NASS platform of education, research, training and advocacy. We have a number of ideas in evolution including podcasts, guidelines development, and outreach. Stay tuned!


7. What do you think is currently the biggest obstacle facing spine providers in the modern landscape?


I think one of the major hurdles facing spine surgeons today is deciding how to integrate newer technologies into practice while focusing on patient outcomes. This is particularly the case as new surgical products, such as cages or robots, are introduced to the market every year. We are seeing so much innovation in the market, it can be a challenge for surgeons to justify their use especially when hospitals and health systems are trying to reduce costs.


8. What is your opinion of the way the health care industry is currently covered in the media?


It is a challenge to tease out the validity and bias in reported health care news. Surgical studies or scientific discoveries are often reduced to a sound bite or an over-simplified summary.


9. What do you do for relaxation in your down time (example: hobbies, sports, travel)?


I enjoy travel, playing tennis with my kids, and jumping on the Peloton. I am a fan of film composer Hans Zimmer and enjoy listening to his scores.
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