P&S Tops in Producing Academic Neurologists and Neurosurgeons

P&S produces more academic neurologists and neurosurgeons than any other U.S. medical school
September 6, 2011


Interested in a career as an academic neurologist or neurosurgeon? You’ve come to the right place.

P&S produces more neurologists and neurosurgeons than any other medical school in the United States, according to two studies from a group of physicians from Thomas Jefferson, Temple, and Stanford universities and the University of Miami. The researchers found 79 P&S graduates are currently working as academic neurologists and 40 are currently working as academic neurosurgeons.

Columbia’s residency programs in neurology and neurosurgery also rank among the top three in the number of alumni currently working in academia. The neurology program ranks first with 134 alumni; the neurosurgery program ranks third with 31 graduates. The studies were published in the August issues of the Journal of Neurosurgery and the Archives of Neurology.

The research experiences required of neurology and neurosurgery residents at Columbia drives many graduates to seek their own research careers in academic medicine.

Why do P&S graduates gravitate toward academic careers in neurology and neurosurgery?

“For neurology, I think that the single most important factor is the consistently strong clerkship in neurology that all P&S students take,” says Timothy A. Pedley, MD, professor of neurology, who chaired the department between 1998 and 2011. Many medical schools only have one- or two-week clerkships in neurology, but P&S has had a five-week neurology clerkship for many decades.

“We have many inspirational clinician-investigators, and when students interact with them in a rich and exciting clinical and research environment, I think they naturally want to become a part of it,” Pedley says.

The situation in neurosurgery is similar, according to Jeffrey Bruce, MD, Edgar M. Housepian Professor of Neurological Surgery and director of the residency program. “We have a commitment to medical students to teach them about neurosurgery,” he says. All P&S students rotate through a one-week neurosurgery clerkship in their third year.

“Most schools don’t do that, because they think the field is too specialized,” Bruce says. “But during that week, students’ perceptions about neurosurgery change. They learn that many patients do well after treatment, and there’s a lot of satisfaction for patients and physicians. Students can come in intimidated by neurosurgery, but the week-long clerkship personalizes the experience and makes it more accessible.”

Both fields at Columbia also have strong research programs, important for producing physicians who stay in academia because they want to be at the forefront of medicine and pursue their own research.

“More so than in most schools, we have many students who work in our research labs,” says Donald Quest, MD, J. Lawrence Pool Professor of Neurological Surgery. “We have strong research programs, in cerebral vascular disease and neurooncology especially, and many Doris Duke Scholars from other medical schools come here to do their research.”

For residents of both programs, research is required. Residents in neurological surgery spend two years of the seven-year program engaged in research, and “by the time they’re done, they have a basis for an academic career,” says Bruce. In neurology, each resident is paired with a research mentor and NIH-funded training programs are available for residents who want to pursue research as a career.

“We believe strongly that the future of medicine lies in the successful grafting of basic biomedical science to clinical applications, and through their research experiences, our residents are steeped in that philosophy,” says Richard Mayeux, MD, Sergievsky Professor and the current chair of neurology. “They get excited by that approach, and most end up staying in academic neurology because they want to develop better treatments for their patients.”

Both fields also have a long track record of producing successful academics. At one point in the 1960s, 35 of all neurology department chairs in the country had been trained by H. Houston Merritt, MD, chair of neurology at P&S from 1948 to 1968. And many current faculty members in neurology and neurosurgery are leaders of national organizations.

“Success breeds success,” Quest says.

--Susan Conova

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