From left to right: Dr. Scully, Mackenzie Goodrich, Adam Moreno, and Dr. Chua.

When third year medical students Adam Moreno and Mackenzie Goodrich began their neurosurgery rotations at Northwest NeuroSpecialists in Tucson, Arizona, they didn’t quite realize what they were getting into. “We had a chance to scrub into some really interesting cases including cervical spine fusions, lumbar spine fusion (using the Mazor robot), craniotomies for a glioblastoma, a teratoma, subdural hemorrhages, the list goes on,” Moreno said. “We definitely learned a lot and we were able to do so much hands-on work—like drilling burr holes and handling brain tissue.”

Moreno worked under the guidance of Neurological Surgeon Richard V. Chua, MD. He said participating in patient care from start to finish was one of the most memorable aspects of the rotation, and it has solidified his desire to go into a specialty where he can be more hands-on with his patients. “We were in the office looking at scans, then in the operating room, and later seeing patients at follow up visits in the outpatient setting—it’s incredibly rewarding to enact immediate, positive change to a patient’s symptoms,” Moreno explained. “I also learned the value of having an excellent support staff. A physician is ultimately one person. Having an incredible OR team, friendly hospital nurses and volunteers, and a great office staff is integral to patient outcomes and satisfaction.”

Goodrich said she had never considered pursuing neurosurgery as a specialty, but her month working with Neurological Surgeon Thomas B. Scully, MD, gave her a sense of satisfaction she hadn’t experienced before. “I loved being in the operating room while they operated on spines and brains. There was a feeling of instant gratification. Being able to perform a minimally invasive micro discectomy and take away a patient’s pain as soon as they woke up in post op is such a rewarding feeling.”

Some of Goodrich’s most memorable experiences included finding out that a suspected brain tumor was actually a dermoid cyst, seeing the spinal cord during a surgery (“It was beautiful and mesmerizing,” she remembers), and bringing immediate relief to patients after surgery. “There may be patients who pass or patients diagnosed with terrible brain tumors. However, there are even more patients who become free of leg and back pain after the surgery you assist on, and they are so thankful,” she said. “Other students going into this rotation should know that you just may end up pursuing neurosurgery as a career!”

Moreno’s advice to other medical students is to be aware of the difficult conversations that will inevitably be a part of this rotation. “There are times when surgical intervention is unable to change a patient’s outcome. It’s in these times we should be mindful of the osteopathic philosophy of seeing the patient and their family as a unit of mind, body, and spirit.”

And while Dr. Scully really pushed Goodrich to study and learn all she could, she said that one of his most valuable lessons went far beyond academics. “This rotation gave me perspective which I already felt I was losing throughout the stress and fast pace of third year rotations,” she said. “Dr. Scully reminded me to continue to enjoy life throughout my medical school journey and my future life as a doctor. We would be on our way to the hospital to round on new patients and we would always take a minute to watch the sunset and just be thankful.”