Newly Graduated Residents Reflect on Experiences at Barrow
Training future leaders in the neurosciences has been part of Barrow’s mission since the institute opened its doors in 1962.
“When I was applying to neurosurgery residency, Barrow had the reputation of being in a league of its own in terms of the quality of neurosurgical training,” said Jay Turner, MD, PhD, a recent graduate of the Neurosurgery Residency Program. “Now, seven years later, I can say that has certainly been my experience.”
Kristen Caraher, PsyD, who just completed a 2-year neuropsychology residency, shared similar sentiments. The Chicago native said Barrow was her top choice when she applied for residency programs and that she would still rank it No. 1 if she had to choose again.
The National Resident Matching Program places applicants based on how they rank organizations and how the organizations rank them. Each academic year at Barrow begins July 1.
Volume and Variety of Cases
Dr. Caraher said Barrow offers a unique experience for residents because of its high volume of patients and the complexity of their conditions. She said that managing the number of patients was the most challenging part of the job, but it’s also why she feels prepared for a career in neuropsychology.
“I think the amount of pathology and the sheer volume of patients we see during training is phenomenal,” said Sam Laali, MD, who completed a 4-year neurology residency.
Barrow opened a 430,000-square-foot neuroscience tower in 2006 – the largest in the country. Barrow neurosurgeons perform more than 7,000 procedures each year.
“Barrow has one of the highest volume neurosurgical centers in the world, where we have exposure to a whole breadth of neurological disease spanning from common problems which require routine treatment to rare disorders which require more sophisticated surgical solutions,” Dr. Turner said.
Exposure to Specialties
Being exposed to various neurological diseases allows residents to explore which specialties interest them most.
“There are essentially countless resources available to trainees, and you’re given the freedom to develop and define yourself as you see most fit,” Dr. Turner said, adding that he could not have asked for more from his training.
Dr. Turner had more of an interest in the brain than the spine when he started his residency, but that changed as he learned more about spine surgery.
“Seeing the impact that spine surgery can have on patients’ quality of life was one of the early drivers,” he said. “Choosing the right treatment for the right patient – and doing it well – can transform lives, and I got to see that early on.”
Dr. Turner said he also derived technical satisfaction from the challenging cases that fall under the umbrella of “complex spine.” He pursued fellowship training in San Diego and Zurich, where he primarily focused on spinal deformities and complex spinal reconstructions.
“Advancing the field of spinal deformity and scoliosis is a big passion of mine, and a top priority as I begin my practice,” he said.
Dr. Caraher has always been interested in health psychology and particularly enjoys working with people who suffer from obesity. She said her residency gave her the opportunity to bridge the gap between her interest in both health psychology and neuropsychology.
She worked with Clinical Neuropsychologist Alexander Tröster, PhD, on a research project that looked at neuropsychological findings, mood, and quality of life in obese Parkinson’s patients to better understand how weight relates to neurological conditions.
Dr. Laali decided during his residency to pursue stroke treatment as his specialty because he realized the potential to make a difference in the lives of those patients.
“There are certain diseases in neurology where you can’t really make a huge difference, maybe because there are no therapies available or it’s a progressive disease where you’re just trying to slow the disease process down,” he said. “Stroke is very tangible. What time did it start? What time is it now? Can we give them tPA, or can we provide them with any kind of endovascular intervention? You can prevent disability or death.”
A Family-Oriented Culture
The residents also said Barrow has a unique culture that emphasizes work-life balance and building strong relationships with colleagues.
“The program is run really well, the training is top notch, and the people are great – they’re phenomenal,” Dr. Laali said. “I think I’ll really miss the people more than anything else.”
Dr. Turner – originally from New Jersey – met his wife, started a family, and formed close friendships during his residency. He acquired mentors, had the opportunity to mentor others, and interacted with numerous patients and families. He said these relationships and experiences have shaped his life.
“The primary goal is to graduate world-class neurosurgeons who are at the top of their field, and I think the program is very successful in this regard, but there is also a high level of importance placed on family and life balance,” he said. “The Division of Neurosurgery is constantly holding events throughout the year, including dinners, hikes, and sporting events. Spouses and kids are included in everything. Barrow is truly one big family.”
Dr. Caraher said that for years to come she will be able to consult with the supervisors she had at Barrow, whom she admires for more than their knowledge of neuropsychology.
“I’ll remember learning the science of complex neurological conditions and how they show up in a neuropsychological manner, but I’ll also remember that empathy and warmth and quality of patient care that I observed from my supervisors,” she said. “I really hope I am able to take that with me.”
Dr. Caraher has accepted a position as a clinical assistant professor and clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Iowa, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience here,” she said. “It’s been challenging, and you’re pushed to be better than you are, but I think that has prepared me well for my next step in neuropsychology and to tackle any challenge that might present itself moving forward.”
Dr. Laali is returning to his hometown of Dallas for a stroke fellowship at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He said he enjoyed exploring Arizona during his free time, including hiking the Grand Canyon with his colleagues, and hopes to start his career somewhere in the Southwest.
“I don’t think I could have gotten this kind of training or experience anywhere else,” he said.
Dr. Turner considered academic positons all over the country but decided that there was no other place he’d rather build his career than Barrow. He will join Barrow Brain and Spine as an attending neurosurgeon.
“I’ve seen the tremendous impact that Barrow has had on shaping the field of neurosurgery over the years, and I really wanted to be part of that effort,” he said.