WINS Spotlight on Regional Mentors and Mentees

Theresa Elder

Spotlight on Mentee in Michigan/Ohio

Theresa Elder is a recent graduate of Central Michigan University College of Medicine and new member of WINS. Her first exposure to neurosurgery occurred late in her final year of medical school, and she ultimately withdrew from the residency match for another specialty in order to pursue neurosurgery. She is currently conducting post-doctoral research at Case Western University and here reflects on how great mentorship has influenced her career path:

I am thrilled to be on the path to becoming a neurosurgeon, which I owe entirely to great mentorship. My medical school’s mission emphasizes the need for primary care physicians in rural communities and to endorse this vision, six months of our third year is spent in a rural community family practice. During those six months, I spent as much time as possible at my community’s general surgery center, as I had only recently discovered my love for the OR and planned to apply for a general surgery residency.

After that time, I returned to my home campus in Saginaw, Michigan, to begin my fourth year rotations. One evening while on my general surgery sub-internship, I heard a stroke paged overhead and curiously followed staff to the endovascular suite, only to discover what is now my greatest passion. I watched in awe as Joseph Adel, MD, FAANS, performed a thrombectomy, after which the previously aphasic patient woke up and talked to him. I followed Dr. Adel to his next case, observing my first craniotomy. By the end of the day (and night), my focus was shifted to neurosurgery.

Despite having already applied for a general surgery residency, my visits to the neurosurgery OR became routine and I continued longing for more. Dr. Adel helped me build a foundation of technical skills and taught me how surgery significantly transcends the OR. He also taught me, by his example, that neurosurgery is not just a career, but a way of life. He was more dedicated to his patients, the profession and my learning than anyone I had encountered throughout my training, and his passion for neurosurgery was contagious.

When I later rotated in neurosurgery at other schools, I found these traits to be common among neurosurgeons and that their values aligned with mine. I was continually surrounded by faculty and trainees devoted to their profession, who provided me with endless support – particularly when reaching my decision to withdraw from the general surgery match and apply to neurosurgery the following year. I am especially thankful to have met Andrew Sloan, MD, FAANS, whose wonderful mentorship provided an opportunity to join his neuro-oncology lab following my graduation from medical school. I am also thankful to have met Krystal Tomei, MD, MPH, FAANS, who has helped me in identifying how best to achieve my career goals and who I look up to in every regard. I was just recently fortunate enough to gain additional mentors who have generously welcomed me to WINS, and I am so excited to become part of an incredible group.

My path to neurosurgery was ignited by great mentorship, something that I will value throughout my career and hope to one day provide to future trainees. It is with great pleasure that I enter this rewarding profession in the hope of impacting as many lives as I can.