From music producer to 'the present-day Indiana Jones': The alternate careers 5 spine surgeons would choose


Growing up, people often consider multiple career paths. Here's what five spine specialists would want to do if they weren't surgeons.

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. Becker's invites all spine surgeon and specialist responses.

Next week's question: What do television shows and movies get right when depicting spine and neurosurgeons? What do they get wrong?

Please send responses to Carly Behm at by 5 p.m. CDT Wednesday, April 12.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: If you weren't a spine surgeon, what would your job be?

Harel Deutsch, MD. Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (Chicago): In terms of other specialties, I would be in radiation oncology. I think there is a lot of technology that will involve targeted delivery of radiation that will be developed in coming years.

Brian Fiani, DO. Mendelson Kornblum Orthopedic & Spine Specialists (Livonia, Mich.): I was always fascinated by evolutionary biology, archeology and paleontology. If I was not a spine surgeon, I suppose I would see myself as the present-day Indiana Jones traveling the world with a sense of adventure and a curious mind about ancient times.

Brian Gantwerker, MD. The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: We have several artists and musicians in my family. My aunt Robin was a painter and photographer and took some classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. My cousin Danny makes acapella music, my cousin Mitch in New York is a dedicated painter and graphic artist, and my other cousin Jeff has a band and can play anything with a string. I've loved music and sang (albeit not well) since I was young and dreamt of writing music. I've been privileged to meet several real musicians in my life, and I definitely would love to be a music producer. The studio, the production, tweaking, listening — these are all things that still fascinate me. Having watched amazing producers work, albeit from documentaries, like Brian Wilson, Sir George Martin and Timbaland do their thing, that would be my other dream job.

Vijay Yanamadala, MD. Hartford (Conn.) HealthCare: If I weren't a spine surgeon, I would be a physical therapist. Through my years as a spine surgeon, I have had the privilege of working with many amazing physical therapists who have truly impacted my patients. From helping patients recover from surgery to helping them avoid surgery altogether, physical therapy is unquestionably the most impactful treatment strategy we have today for patients with back pain and spinal conditions. With our aging population, there will be a tremendous need for physical therapists in the coming years. 

Christian Zimmerman, MD. St. Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): Impulsivity aside, the immediate answer would be some other facet of medicine, most likely trauma or vascular surgery. Albeit it is difficult to imagine being "something else" after many decades of this habit.

My exposure to the surgical universe started during college as a neighbor and friend introduced me to a neurosurgeon. Interest in complex spinal disorders came during residency training as the field was evolving and additional fellowships were available. Interests peaked during my senior resident years as the mandatory emphasis on cranial work shifted to complex spinal work as collaboration opened with our orthopedic colleagues. The crowning moment of course was being afforded the extreme honor of the complex spinal disorders fellowship with one of the world's best at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. I have also had the good fortune to be practicing at the same institution for my entire career, which has endured the extraordinary stressors of the pandemic, staffing issues and financial opposition and continued to be focused on patient care.

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