PNA Spotlight: Dr. Nathan Zwagerman
Dr. Zwagerman is a Professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He did his undergraduate work in psychology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He earned his medical degree at Wayne State University in Detroit. He did his fellowship in endoscopic and open cranial base surgery, and then his residency in neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He was kind enough to answer some questions from the PNA; here are his responses.
What inspired you to choose your career path?
I grew up on a small family farm and always have been interested in how the body works. This fascination led me to medicine where I excelled in surgery. I have always been mystified by the brain and how the effects it has throughout the body. Moreover, I always thought that there has to better/more minimally invasive ways to access it. Pituitary surgery was a natural evolution of that thought as we can access a very small structure through natural body openings in the nose. This technique has been expanded to access lesions throughout the skull base.
What is the primary focus of your work/research?
The primary focus of my work involves improving current operating techniques to minimize complications. This specifically engages aspects of surgery including reconstruction and wound healing to prevent post-operative complications. The other part of my job involves studying the tumors that I remove and learning ways to treat these by avoiding surgery. I also study genetics and work on developing targeted therapies.
What do you consider to be the future of your field?
Neurosurgery (and specifically skull base surgery) is evolving along with technology to gain better access and understanding of the lesions and important structures surrounding them. The future of pituitary surgery will involve more targeted therapies for tumors and better surgical techniques to avoid complications.
What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
I think most neurosurgeons and pituitary surgeons are working hard to find ways to do things safer. Surgery will always be an option and it is my goal to be able to offer the best possible surgery for maximal patient benefit. However, my dream is to develop techniques and treatments that make my surgical skills obsolete.
What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
I came to Milwaukee because I had a certain skill set and the region had a certain need that matched. I think the best outcomes come from doing the same type of thing every day and as a skull base/pituitary surgeon, I work in this area every day. My focus is solely on patients with brain tumors and I think I can offer the best treatments because this is the world I live in.
Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?
I got involved with the PNA as a resource to help me find people from all aspects of care - from the patient to the physicians who have a similar mindset. I value the opinions of others and found this to be a great way to interact with a wide variety of opinions.