“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”—William Osler. This statement sums up the life of a neurophysiologist quite nicely. There is no such thing as a typical day. Each day is different, locations vary, surgeons vary, times vary, and there are many different types of surgeries we can be involved with. We work with numerous surgeons such as neuro, orthopedic, ENT, trauma, and vascular to name a few. If there is a risk of neural injury or ischemic episode, we are present in that surgery. Not only to make the surgery safer and assist the surgeon but also to advocate for the patient.
As a neurophysiologist, we identify early signs of neural injury or damage in order to reduce risk and provide safety for patients. We do this by recording, reviewing, and interpreting electrical evoked potentials from the nervous system. Then based on the data we collect, we suggest interventions and communicate with surgeons and anesthesia staff to resolve any issues that may arise during the surgical intervention. These include but are not limited to; surgical manipulation, vascular concern, technical issues, positional changes, and anesthesia adjustments.
The thought process of a neurophysiologist can be likened to that of troubleshooting an issue with your iPhone. You know it keeps shutting off, but you can’t figure out why without eliminating possibilities and utilizing critical thinking. So in our world, if the data you’re collecting reflects a possible issue, you must go through a litany of possibilities to find an answer, and find one quickly. The surgeon wants to know if you have an issue and what caused it. If the issue arose due to a surgical manipulation, the surgeon will want to reverse or adjust that action to ensure the patient emerges without a deficit. This is why it is critical to be an exceptional problem solver and communicator. You always want to ensure your response warrants your claim and is justifiable.
It’s hard to describe one day because of how different every day is, but that’s what makes this job so wonderful and exciting. Nothing is mundane and variety is the spice of life right? As long as you come equipped with a great attitude and a problem-solving brain, the day is rewarding with many opportunities to step outside your comfort zone, learn, and grow.
About the Author
Shakira A. Tassone, B.S, CNIM, R.EEG T, CHCA, is a Surgical Neurophysiologist III working on our Northeast District- Lehigh Valley IONM Team. Shakira will be contributing a monthly blog, casting a spotlight on the role of a surgical neurophysiologist and how this service is making surgery safer.