This month the PNA Spotlight focuses on Tyler J. Kenning, MD, FAANS, who serves as director of pituitary and cranial base surgery at Piedmont Brain Tumor Center, part of Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Dr. Kenning attended medical school at Thomas Jefferson University, graduating in 2005. He did his residency at Albany Medical Center in neurological surgery and completed a fellowship in neurosurgical oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Here are Dr. Kenning’s answers to a series of questions posed by the PNA.
What inspired you to choose your career path?
My father was a neurosurgeon. Growing up, I watched him work tirelessly, and I quickly realized that his efforts truly embodied the virtues of Theodore Roosevelt’s sentiment that “…the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The potential ability to make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives led me to similarly pursue a career in medicine and then neurosurgery. During my training, I became greatly interested in the physiology of the pituitary gland and the endocrine system as well as endoscopic ‘minimally invasive’ neurosurgery. The prospect of having a brain tumor and then undergoing a neurosurgical procedure is a very daunting and scary one for patients, and the ability to offer ‘minimally invasive’ but ‘maximally effective’ surgery to treat these problems is important.
What is the primary focus of your work/research?
I’m very interested in cranial base surgery and neurosurgical oncology. Both of these are rapidly evolving fields where new technologies are constantly being applied to make treatment more effective, safer, and less destructive to normal structures. My work and research focuses on ways to do that, including minimally invasive surgical approaches and reconstruction of the cranial base. Endoscopic endonasal surgery may be one of the most important recent advances to these fields, allowing safe access to areas of the cranial base and brain that were not previously achievable. In doing so, knowledge of the relevant anatomy, surgical technique and sufficient reconstruction is critical. We have worked and published on each of these areas.
What do you consider to be the future of your field?
Although surgical treatment will likely always be an integral part of cranial base disorders, pituitary care and neuro-oncology, its focus continues to drastically change. We’ve developed safer surgical techniques as well as complementary medical and radiotherapy treatments that allow for more effective therapies and better quality of life for patients. This requires continued evolution of our surgical procedures with a focus not only on treating a tumor and its effects, but also on preserving/restoring function and being minimally disruptive to patient’s lives. Our surgical treatments will continue to be more gentle and safe, while our collaboration in physician ‘teams,’ including medicine, surgery and radiation, will be increasingly important. In the future, there will continue to be a shift away from a ‘single doctor approach’ to management of medical issues in favor of Centers of Excellence and multidisciplinary, collaborative teams of physicians.
What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
Being diagnosed with a brain tumor and going to see a neurosurgeon can be a frightening experience for patients. Disorders of the pituitary gland, the ‘master gland’ of our hormone system, is very common and occur in up to 20% of the population. One of the main reasons that I enjoy treating patients with pituitary tumors and problems is that I am able to reassure them that these are typically benign ‘non-cancerous’ tumors, and most patients will be relieved to hear that they just need to be observed (and not necessarily treated) by a team of surgeons, endocrinologists and ophthalmologists. For those patients that do require treatments, these are often highly effective, very safe and allow for rapid recovery.
What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
My approach, and that of our entire team, to patients is to provide the care that we would want delivered to ourselves and to members of our own families. Although I am often asked what are my favorite surgical procedures to perform, the preferred aspect of our work is the personal interaction with patients, the reassurance that I am able to provide in the outpatient office and hospital or around the time of surgery and recovery. The ability to make a meaningful difference to patients is the best part of doing what we do. The trust that patients place in us to provide their medical care is such a privilege and one that we recognize and take very seriously
Why did you get involved with the PNA; what is the extent of your involvement.
The PNA is a fantastic patient-centric resource for information on disorders of the pituitary gland. As an international non-profit organization, it has served to bring some of the world’s top clinicians and scientists together in a collaborative effort to improve pituitary care and be at the forefront of supporting research and providing education to patients and their families. The PNA truly embraces the multidisciplinary management of the field, and it is my privilege to be involved and contribute to these efforts..