Exclusive Interview With "Dr. Paul Kaloostian"
Dr. Paul Kaloostian attended Providence High School, a national blue ribbon high school, where his interest in the Neurosciences began. He spent his summers studying neuroscience, physics, and organic chemistry at Brown University, Stanford University, and Harvard University. He then matriculated into the extremely competitive University of California BS/BA/MD accelerated program out of high school. This rigorous 7-year program is the only one of its kind in California and one of a handful across the United States.
After finishing medical school at the prestigious David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Kaloostian attended the University of New Mexico Medical Center for Neurological Surgery residency where he excelled in Cranial and Spinal Surgery, including Neuro-Trauma. He then completed a prestigious Complex Spine and Spinal Oncology instructorship under the mentorship of the renowned Ziya Gokaslan MD, FACS at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Kaloostian is a prolific author, researcher, and scientist having authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, over 130 book chapters, 12 peer-reviewed scientific textbooks, 2 poetry books, and 1 novel.
You're a successful neurosurgeon, how do you find time to write?
Good question. If you love something strong enough, I truly feel you will make time for it. Writing is my catharsis. My optic nerves and frontal lobes have seen and continue to see so much pathology on a daily basis. You would not believe the stories that come through the hospital doors. Bottling up this stress and responsibility is unhealthy. One must have a way of allowing a safe exit of such anxiety in order to remain healthy, both physically and mentally.
So, I would often find myself in between surgical cases while the rooms are being cleaned on my laptop creatively expressing my thoughts. In some cases, I would stay up late and type through the night. I have found that a few hours of solace for me goes a long way in creatively expressing my thoughts quite efficiently.
I often find myself jotting down notes on a piece of paper if I encounter an idea that would be interesting for readers. Therefore, I always recommend keeping an open mind and being in the moment, as every single interaction you have can potentially be so educational and interesting for readers.
Tell us about your book, The Young Neurosurgeon: Lessons from my Patients. Why did you feel it was important to put your patient's stories in a book?
For years I would treat patient after patient, never really truly understanding the depth of my care or the plight of my patients that have put their trust in me. I decided a few years ago to slowly start telling the story of such patients to showcase their strength, courageousness, and in some cases their failures/sadness. The patients I see are in their greatest time of need and their stories often are forgotten and/or untold. I want to start this dialogue for the world to see.
Secondly, I want the world to understand that medicine is not a one-way street, but a two-way street. I not only help patients, but I also learn so much from my patients that in turn this gives me so much fulfillment and makes me a better person. And I thank my patients for what they provide me indirectly in making me whole. As noted in my book, I have learned so much about what it means to be human, to be sick, to be faithful and to be giving. This doctor patient relationship has tentacles that reach deep into the hearts and minds of both the patient and physician.
You've also written two poetry books, From the Eyes of A Doctor and My Surgical Cases Told in Poems, tell us about those? Many people wouldn't expect a doctor to have such an artistic creative side to them, how would you address this preconception?
I have often found it difficult to convey what I do for a living in layman’s terms. People will often lose me after a sentence or two given the complicated nature of such cases. I realized that poetry made it much easier for me to share my thoughts with others, and to break down surgical cases and pathology in a more digestible manner.
There is an absolute preconception about medical doctors as being very rigid and book smart, without the ability to be creative and entrepreneurial. And doctors often think of themselves in this manner as the training is so long and arduous, and military-like, that you are offered no time or energy to think outside the box. This unfortunately has hurt, in my opinion, 90% of doctors who are “burned out” without a clear path toward recovery. One of my main messages is to show that medical doctors can be very creative and entrepreneurial, and can not only save human lives through their work but can do just the same through their creative endeavors.
What would you like readers to take away from your books?
I would like patients to understand the complexity of medicine that physicians must navigate through to heal, the empathy and honesty that is needed by physicians in order to provide adequate healing, and to tell the story of brave and courageous patients who are often in their greatest time of need and fighting the biggest battles of their life.
Additionally, I want people to understand that there is more to doctors than being book smart and formula based. And through pushing the boundaries of science with art and creativity, and with a desire to improve oneself, doctors can contribute exponentially to not only healthcare problems but global crises.
Have you shared your work with your patients, and if so how have they reacted to it?
Yes, I have been told from numerous patients that they have read my books, either prior to surgery, after surgery or before consultations with me. From what I have been told, the patients confided with me that the poetry books were easy to read and gave them deeper insights into the surgical procedures that I do. They also describe that the Young Neurosurgeon text opened their eyes to a surgeon’s life, the types of pathology that doctors often encounter, and to the profound spirit and perseverance and inner strength needed to complete the healing process. Overall, I have received really great feedback that has left me humbled and grateful, yet hungry to push the boundaries further to improve our care for the sick.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you next?
I am working on another medical poetry text focusing only on patients with traumatic brain injury. Being a neuro trauma surgeon for 16 years now, I have seen a myriad of traumatic injuries to the brain and spine. These are often times very bloody, dangerous, time consuming surgeries with high morbidity and mortality. Fortunately, I have seen good outcomes in a majority of cases. Nevertheless, I want to deliver the stories of these courageous patients to the world. It is often unthinkable what other human beings are going through in this world, and I want to help tell their story the best way I can. Some patients unfortunately are unable to tell that story either due to their mortality or cognitive injury.
Also, I am working on a set of dramatic short stories, perhaps can be put into a book or made into a play regarding fictional events surrounding doctor-patient interactions. For example, a surgeon removes a tumor in the motor cortex of the brain and post operatively the patient has suffered severe weakness. The patient suffers worsening depression because he cannot live how he used to live and ends up stalking the doctor, and this leads to a wild adventure of survival.
For more information, please visit https://www.paulkaloostian.com
The Young Neurosurgeon: Lessons from My Patients
In the ER, the OR, and in the waiting room where the doctors deliver heart stopping news to the families of their patients, a neurosurgeon's apprenticeship is arduous. This memoir of the day-to-day experiences of a resident in neurosurgery at one of the nation's busiest trauma centers provides a rare window into the training of the doctors who open patients' skulls and operate on their brains and spinal cords. Paul Kaloostian's intimate account describes both the lifesaving feats and tragic failures that are the daily ups and downs of twenty-firstcentury neurosurgery. Kaloostian shares the lessons of humility, faith, and compassion that were often more important than the surgical expertise he acquired in the operating room.