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March 07, 2017


Q&A With Francisco Ilabaca, MD


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


My hometown, and current location, is Santiago de Chile, South America. I was born, went to school and university, got married and formed a family in this same city, located in the central region of Chile, a long and narrow strip of land located on the western edge of the continent. As most of the other Latin American capital cities, Santiago is quite a big town, embracing a population of over 6 million people. Chile enjoys some international fame due to our great wines and beautiful natural scenarios, including probably most of the available combinations of climate, flora and fauna, thanks to our distinct geography.

The world’s driest desert, the Atacama Desert, is in our northernmost region, while the Patagonia and Antarctica are in our extreme south. On the west, we enjoy a coastline of over 6,000 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean, whereas on the East, the Andean Range provides us with an impressive natural border, which separates us from our neighbors: Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Unfortunately, we occasionally gain global attention due to our, not so infrequent, natural disasters, such as the 8.8º earthquake of 2010.


2. What is your educational background?


After obtaining my MD at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile I did my Orthopedics residency at Universidad de Los Andes and finally completed a 2-year AOSpine Long Term Fellowship at the Hospital del Trabajador de Santiago.


3. Tell us a little bit about your practice/specialty…


I currently work at the Hospital del Trabajador (The Workers’ Hospital), the same center where I was trained as spine surgeon and probably one of the best trauma centers in Latin America. The focus of this institution are work-related injuries, so we get a lot of exposure to traumatic injuries of the whole spine during and after our training, but we also treat patients with degenerative and non-traumatic spine conditions. For over a year now I have been exclusively dedicated to my private practice in this same hospital, focusing on degenerative pathology, mainly of the cervical spine.


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


I joined NASS back in 2013, after attending that year’s annual meeting, held in New Orleans, Louisiana. This event was my first exposure to NASS and I was highly impressed, so I decided to become a member and continue participating right away. I was motivated to be part of this group of spine-related professionals who want to deliver the best evidence-based care to their patients. I also want to keep learning from internationally-renowned spine experts and continue with up to date new technologies and treatment alternatives.


5. NASS is making strides to increase our international presence. As an international member in Chile, what are the top benefits being a NASS member?


In my experience, as an international member, I have been able to improve the way I tackle complex cases, by referring to articles in SpineConnect or by getting suggestions from more experienced spine surgeons. Through the “Safety Alert” section, NASS keeps me posted regarding hazards related to certain medications and procedures. Finally, I think that being able to keep in close touch with the ever-evolving technological and scientific spine knowledge from North America and all over the world, despite my distant location here in Chile, is the main benefit of being a NASS member.


6. As an international member, is there anything you’d like NASS to provide that is currently not offered to you?

I think that NASS is doing a great job with their international members, providing great internet content, as, for obvious geographical related restrictions, we are not always able to attend the annual meeting or other events held in the United States.


7. You are a member of NASS’ Public Affairs Committee. What has your experience been like thus far and what prompted your interest in joining a NASS committee?


My main reason for joining a NASS committee was to progress in the sense of belonging to NASS by actively participating in it. So far, I think that the experience has been very enriching, as I have learned how this organization works, how each member can make its contribution to its development and how professionals from different backgrounds can work together to build a better future for spine care.


8. What do you think is the most pressing issue or issues in spine care today in Chile?


I think that the main current issue in Chile, not only in spine care, but in health care in general, is with access to high quality care. Due to economical restrains, not everyone is able to pay for good and timely spine care and must rely on the ever-lacking public health system. Although there is currently a national program to get expedited care for patients with a lumbar disc herniation and scoliosis which require surgical treatment, this same situation reduces the possibility of treating patients with other spine conditions such as lumbar stenosis, degenerative cervical myelopathy, among others, both in the public and private systems.


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

In most of Latin America, mainstream media such us TV, newspapers and magazines focuses in non-scientific news, such as politics, gossip, crime and corruption, generating a uniformed population in several areas, including health topics.

I think that the internet is contributing to changing this situation, as you have access to online health-related contents, being able to compare techniques and/or health providers. Nevertheless, this is a double-edged sword, because, as there are no filters, you can get biased or commercially-driven information regarding spine care. It is quite difficult for the general population to decipher this, but institutional support such as NASS’ or other serious scientific societies definitely aids in this objective.


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


I spend most of my free time with my family. I particularly enjoy time with my children and watching them grow. I also set some time aside to practice judo, a discipline that has been part of my life for a long time and which I intend to continue practicing for many years to come. Judo allows me to perform high intensity physical activity, but it also helps me to clear my mind and keep focused on what’s important in today’s sometimes frenetic lifestyle.


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