SpecialtyCare Highlight with Dr. Stephen Griffith

Seeking a Career in Healthcare

Dr. Stephen Griffith is a board-certified neurosurgeon whose interest in becoming a doctor started around four or five years old as he watched his father’s career as an OB-GYN. As a kid, he would go on rounds with him. Being involved at a young age solidified his desire to pursue a career as a physician. He knew he didn’t want to become an OB-GYN, but instead pursued a specialty that fascinated him the most: the brain and heart. 

Studying these concepts in school, and eventually getting into the operating room, confirmed that neurosurgery was the career he wanted to pursue. During Griffith’s first year of medical school, he had a preceptorship with a neurosurgeon performing basic operations. During this time, he recognized that the career path he was pursuing was achievable, and he was one step closer to becoming a neurosurgeon.  

Medical School and Residency 

Griffith applied to 20 medical schools and sent out secondaries to 12 schools. From those 12, he got eight interviews and received four acceptances. Residency programs are a challenging and competitive match program, so it’s all about finding the right fit. Griffith ultimately attended medical school at St. Louis University. 

Additionally, he completed an away rotation at the University of Tennessee Memphis and Mayo Clinic. Although he didn’t attend the University of Tennessee Memphis for his residency, he believes the support from the program chairman was integral to his acceptance into the program at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 

Griffith spent a seven-year residency there followed by a fellowship. As he moved through his residency program, he began working on more challenging cases. At the tail end of the residency, he was so drawn to the process of brain stimulation techniques that he decided to do an extra year of focused training on this specialty at Oregon Health and Science University. Afterward, he went on to work at St. Luke’s in Kansas City.   

Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease

The Kansas City community serves many rural areas. As a result, they have a large patient population. Griffith treats deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors. When he stepped into this role, he knew that the Midwest was an area that needed his unique skill set. 

Parkinson’s is a painful disease that affects the dopaminergic neurons in your brain. Ultimately, you can lose your mobility and the ability to live everyday life. Deep brain stimulation allows people to retain some of the functions they would otherwise lose over the course of the disease.

Deep brain stimulation is a continuation of medical therapy. First, you can take levodopa-carbidopa, a medication that maintains dopamine levels within your body and moves it past the blood-brain barrier to increase the duration in which it acts. Once this medication becomes less effective, you can utilize deep brain stimulation to maintain your quality of life. 

Deep Brain Stimulation Techniques 

Deep brain stimulation is a two-day surgery that involves placing electrodes on the patient’s brain. The electrodes must be placed accurately so the surgeon can modify and adjust the amount of stimulation based on the patient’s needs. The next day, the surgeon implants the battery on the front part of the chest beneath the skin. The battery acts similar to a pacemaker by delivering electrical impulses to the nucleus to regulate its function. 

Griffith was one of the first fellows to be taught a new technique, sleep deep brain stimulation. Instead of being awake, this therapy method is performed in half the amount of time while asleep. When he moved to Kansas City to start his career as a neurosurgeon, he was the only one using sleep deep brain stimulation in the Midwest. Over the last ten years, more physicians have started using it. This method has opened the door to a broader range of patients.

Physician Burnout

Although it is rewarding, Griffith states that being a physician is a grind. Recently, he decided to transition to contract work that allows him to go back to the root of why he went into neurosurgery. He’s passionate about taking care of patients at a time when they need it most, and this type of work allows him to do that while spending more time with his family and enjoying other activities. This shift will provide Griffith with a better work-life balance and a more sustainable career.  

Griffith has had a remarkable career thus far. His one piece of advice to others pursuing a career in this field is to recognize that neurosurgery isn’t the end all be all. He states that it’s gratifying but recognizes that there are many other ways to make an impact. Therefore, he recommends that people don’t turn their backs on other areas where they might have equal or more excellent talent.

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