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Dr. Michael Lawton’s First Class of Barrow Residents: James Zhou, MD

Twenty years after completing his neurosurgery residency at Barrow Neurological Institute, Dr. Michael Lawton has returned to succeed his former chairman, Dr. Robert Spetzler. He now oversees Barrow’s 28 neurosurgery residents—the largest neurosurgery residency program in the United States.

We spoke to the four first-year residents who will train under Dr. Lawton and the rest of the Barrow neurosurgery faculty for the next seven years. Below is a portion of our interview with James Zhou, MD.

Dr. Zhou grew up in North Carolina and received his undergraduate degree from Duke University. After working as a middle school science teacher in Washington, D.C. for two years, he moved to Pennsylvania to attend medical school at the University of Pittsburgh.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in neurosurgery?

“The first and foremost reason is the patients. I think that in the field of neurosurgery, we’re privileged to work with some of the patients who need the most help. At the same time, I think the things that you can do for them in neurosurgery, the amount of change that you can effect, is unmatched by most other fields. Neurosurgery also matches up with a lot of my research interests in medical school. I did a lot of research in spine. And I love that as a field, neurosurgery is growing in pretty much all directions. To be a part of that is really awesome, too.”

What do you hope to accomplish in your medical career?

“I’d love to go into a career in academics, much like Dr. Lawton or Dr. Spetzler or any of the attending neurosurgeons here. I have a passion for teaching, so I’d love to train my own residents one day. I’d love to pass on knowledge and be part of keeping the field moving forward. As I said, neurosurgery is changing and expanding, and I’d love to be part of pushing the boundaries of the field. And obviously, I’d love to devote a large portion of my time to actually being a neurosurgeon—being the one who takes care of patients.”

Why did you rank Barrow as your top choice for your residency?

“I did a sub-internship here last year, and I can safely say from my sub-internship experiences and my interview experiences that there is no program like this one. I don’t think any program can match the quality and the quantity of the clinical training that you get here, and I think the culture here is pretty unique in neurosurgery. It very much feels like a family here, and everyone is really supportive and really focused on teaching.”

How do you feel about being in Dr. Lawton’s first class of residents here at Barrow and starting your residency in this new era for the institute?

“I feel so privileged. I can’t think of a better situation to be in. I don’t think there’s anything better for both Barrow and for our class than Dr. Lawton coming here. He’s already operating an incredible amount. I think we’re all extremely lucky to have him here, and I think it’s going to just get better and better.”

Learn more about the Barrow Neurosurgery Residency Program.

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About Barrow Neurological Institute

Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.