INTERVIEW WITH SHALIN SHAH, DO
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
As a medical student, I immediately recognized my draw toward the surgical field. During my surgery rotation, I would go into several different specialty operating rooms. Within 10 minutes of seeing my first orthopedic surgery case (a tumor resection/ reconstruction in a 12-year-old boy), I felt an immediate draw, and since then I pursued the field with passion. Throughout my residency, I took a liking to the entirety of orthopedics for various reasons; nonetheless, there are several aspects about the field of spine that led me to realize that it is the best job in the world.
Firstly, there is an overall diversity of spinal pathology that can be treated, ranging from basic arthritic conditions to tumors, traumas, and debilitating spinal deformities. With this comes an added complexity that is fitting to my personality and professional goals. It allows me to think outside of the box with the numerous tools I have developed over the years. With the appropriate discussion with the patient, we can collectively decide on making a right clinical diagnosis with the best treatment plan for an ideally rewarding outcome. Additionally, spine disease touches a diverse cross-section of individuals – old, young, men, women – that gives its practitioners a broad range of operative and non-operative interventions to offer. This ultimately allows for a meaningful relationship to be developed with my patients.
“Over the years I have had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most renowned spine surgeons, and they all have fostered one primary philosophy: treat each patient as if they were your father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, brother or sister, or son or daughter.”
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
Trust. There is an ancient quote by Hippocrates that goes as follows: “Some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of the physician.” As Hippocrates noted, there is a sacred relationship between the physicians and patients that is built on trust. The patient relies on the training and expertise of their doctors to provide the best possible therapy, and to guide them away from any treatments which may not be indicated.
Over the years I have had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most renowned spine surgeons, and they all have fostered one primary philosophy: treat each patient as if they were your father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, brother or sister, or son or daughter. It is this singular philosophy which I use to forge a trusting relationship not just with a patient, disease, or a spine, but with the individual and everyone and every experience that comes with them. Spinal disorders are very complex and often frightening and frustrating to the patient. For this reason I believe it is particularly crucial to treat each patient individually and ensure the patient understands all aspects of their diagnosis and treatments.
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
I am committed to providing an in-depth explanation of my patients’ diagnoses along with a thorough discussion of treatment options and recommendations that are tailored to each patient. While I primarily utilize non-surgical care, operative intervention may be recommended when non-surgical measures are unsuccessful. My patients can be confident that all manners of non-operative care will be vigorously pursued before any type of invasive procedure is discussed. In addition to my passion for excellent patient outcomes, I also have both personal and professional goals for advancing spinal surgery through research and technology and progressing spinal surgery education.
What do you feel about the increased scrutiny between “industry” (companies which provide implants for surgery) and doctors in the medical field by the government?
I believe it is important for doctors to provide insight and new ideas in order to help patients through advancing technology. The field of spine surgery is relatively young with room for development to improve patient outcomes, especially compared to other subspecialties within orthopedic surgery. In light of advancing spinal surgery through research and technology, it is essential that physicians only use techniques and implants with patient safety and results in mind. Physicians should also be forthright and transparent with their patients about any relationships they have with companies.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
As much as I love being a spine surgeon, when I’m not working I am spending time with my beloved friends and family. Additionally, I make an effort to find time to exercise, golf, read (both spine literature and non-spine books), listen to live music, yoga, meditate, and try different restaurants.
What problem do physicians and patients face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
Most physicians – both orthopedic surgeons and others – would unanimously agree that patient education is of utmost importance in the care and therapies that we provide. Unfortunately, there is no streamlined source of credible information for patients to directly extract the most relevant information and answers to their questions. The internet unfortunately has an abundance of misinformation, or scattered information interspersed with useless information and links. Through Doctorpedia, patients are able to obtain trusted information that is vetted by physicians with the sole purpose of educating our patients and helping us provide the most optimal, well-rounded care.
What do you think about the health and wellness information and resources available online?
As the internet allows our patients to seek immediate and immense amounts of information, the lack of credibility and disorganized access is to the detriment of the patient. Matter of fact, it may prove to be dangerous for the consumer. I am honored to join Doctorpedia in creating an extensive breadth of credible and evidence-based information, allowing for focus on clinical care and trust.
“The internet unfortunately has an abundance of misinformation, or scattered information interspersed with useless information and links. Through Doctorpedia, patients are able to obtain trusted information that is vetted by physicians with the sole purpose of educating our patients and helping us provide the most optimal, well-rounded care.”
Why 2 fellowships?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe the best patient care is that which is individualized and tailored to the patient’s overall well-being. In order for me to create the most well-rounded toolbox, I decided to spend time with leaders in the field to learn some advanced techniques in minimally invasive surgery, lateral access surgery, and deformity surgery. Although this may not be the answer for all of my patients, it will only help guide my treatment algorithms and grow as a professional.
Why did you choose an academic position?
As a surgeon, one can choose between “private” and “academic” practices. Throughout my training, I took pride in guiding my junior residents through their early careers in teaching them how to be the best physicians, let alone spine surgeons, that they can be. Not to be downplayed is also the extent that senior physicians learn from enthusiastic junior residents. Not only is there a gratification in teaching others, but there is an invaluable growth that occurs from the conversations that are had. Residents are always keeping up-to-date with the most recent scientific research, which allows me to also stay relevant with the times. In addition to the trainees, an academic center also allows me to treat a more complex breadth of cases that would naturally come through a Level 1 trauma center/tertiary referral center, such as spinal cord injury patients and cancer patients.
Shalin Shah, DO
Orthopedic Spine Surgeon
Dr. Shalin Shah is a Fellowship Trained Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. In addition to being an Assistant Professor with the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Shah is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner.