October 26, 2016
3 min read

A conversation with Karin M. Muraszko, MD, FACS

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In this issue, Spine Surgery Today poses five questions to Karin M. Muraszko, MD, FACS. She is chair of neurosurgery at University of Michigan Health System. She was appointed to that position in 2005. At that time, she became, and remains, the only woman to chair an academic neurosurgery department in the United States.

Dr. Muraszko received her undergraduate degree at Yale University and completed her medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also completed her residency training in neurological surgery, as well as fellowships in pediatric neurosurgery, while at Columbia. Dr. Muraszko was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health for 2 years before she joined the University of Michigan team.

Karin M. Muraszko

Dr. Muraszko specializes in pediatric neurosurgery, including pediatric brain and central nervous system tumors and pediatric spine surgery. Her clinical interests are also in the areas of spina bifida, hydrocephalus, myelomeningocele, craniofacial anomalies, Chiari malformations, spasticity and cerebral palsy, and tethered cord syndrome, among others.

Dr. Muraszko is board certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgeons, and is a member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. She also belongs to several pediatric professional associations.

Spine Surgery Today:Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

Karin M. Muraszko, MD, FACS: My career has been influenced by a variety of individuals. I have had the opportunity to be influenced by my parents, both of whom are members of the “greatest generation.” They inspired me to work hard and find a meaningful career. My colleagues in medicine have taught me much in terms of organizational skills, as well as how to be a good doctor. My own doctor since I was a child taught me the importance of being kind to your patients and making them understand that you realize they too are individuals, not just a diagnosis.

Neurosurgery training is extraordinarily long and as such there is an intimacy between residents and faculty, which is reflective of the hours that we work together and the complex patients we treat. I am fortunate and grateful that I have had some wonderful mentors in neurosurgery and that I work with talented and constantly challenging colleagues who push me to always do more.

Spine Surgery Today:What was the defining moment that led you to your field?

Muraszko: The defining moment that led me into neurosurgery was the first neurosurgical procedure I saw. Rotating on the neurology service, I was asked to follow one of my patients into the OR. There I witnessed for the first time the absolute beauty and majesty of the central nervous system. The 45-year-old man had a complex cervical medullary ependymoma and I watched in awe as the chief resident and faculty removed this tumor using all the surgical technology available to them. I remember thinking there was no more beautiful anatomy than the cervical medullary junction, recognizing it is such a delicate structure embodying so many important functions. It inspired me and affected me like a bolt of lightning. I knew from that moment I wanted desperately to be a neurosurgeon and therefore worked diligently to make myself worthy of the profession.

Spine Surgery Today:What area of research in spine surgery most interests you right now? Why?

Muraszko: I have always been interested in Chiari malformations and specifically the association of Chiari malformations with syringomyelia. The importance of these findings and the understanding as to the pathophysiology and origin has been something that I have been studying for almost 20 years. The more we understand about Chiari malformations, the more we realize there are variables unique to each patient that contribute to the underlying pathology, and eventually to our ability to improve or correct the patient’s condition. I enjoy the challenge of being in an area in which discovery continues and our understanding is improved upon each and every year.

Spine Surgery Today: What advice would you offer a medical school student today?

Muraszko: I would suggest to a medical student who is considering an area of specialization, it is important to recognize your own interest and talents. I am always struck by the fact the most successful individuals are those who are passionate about what they are doing. Passion leads you to work hard and strive to think outside of the box. Passion about an area helps you overcome the difficult times and encourages you to explore new and unchartered territories to help improve the lives of your patients.

I would also suggest to medical students today that they must love learning. To be a constant learner is important to being an excellent physician. Because medicine is evolving, growing and changing rapidly, the ability to assimilate new information and learn will be important for all physicians and their careers.

Spine Surgery Today: What do you enjoy doing to relax?

Muraszko: To relax, I particularly enjoy reading and spending time with my family. My husband and children are great supporters of my career, but also great fun to be with. I particularly enjoy fishing because it is often an act done in the quiet solitude of a beautiful setting in which the rhythm of casting and returning provides a quiet peace. It is interrupted only occasionally by the excitement of the successful catch.

Disclosure: Muraszko reports no relevant financial disclosures.