Weill Cornell Surgeons Share Their Brain and Spine Expertise Around the Globe

The Open Medical Institute seminars in Salzburg provide a forum for extending neurosurgical and orthopedic knowledge to international students

The 30-year-old initiative known as the Open Medical Institute (OMI) recently held its annual neurosurgery courses in Salzburg, Austria, led and instructed by many top names from the Weill Cornell Medicine neurological and orthopedic surgery faculty. The courses consisted of two weeklong seminars, the first focused on the brain and the second on the spine, instructing dozens of international fellows in advanced diagnostics and treatments.

The brain course, the OMI’s tenth, was directed by Dr. Jared Knopman, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery and Interventional Neuroradiology here at Weill Cornell Medicine, and co-directed by internationally renowned spine surgeon Claudius Thomé, Professor, Director, and Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Medical University of Innsbruck. Other Weill Cornell Medicine faculty included Professor and Chairman Philip E. Stieg, PhD, MD, and Antonio Bernardo, MD, director of our neurosurgical training lab. Our experts were delighted to be joined at the podium by one of Dr. Roger Härtl’s former Weill Cornell Medicine fellows, Franziska Schmidt, MD, who recently completed her neurosurgical residency at the Medical University of Innsbruck and is now the functional neurosurgery clinical fellow at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

“We are deeply committed to these courses,” says Dr. Stieg. “Our surgeons recognize what a privilege it is to be invited here to train these young fellows from around the world. This week gives us the opportunity to spread our expertise around the globe, quite literally, as the fellows return to their home countries with their newfound skills and knowledge.”

Faculty and fellows at the 2023 OMI neurosurgery course on the brain

Faculty and fellows at the 2023 OMI neurosurgery course on the brain

The brain course, held from September 10 to 16, led 34 fellows from 29 countries through a wide variety of neurosurgical topics, including not only diagnosing and managing brain tumors, trauma, and functional and cerebrovascular conditions, but also a workshop in how to present cases. Presenting their own cases to the expert faculty provided fellows with the opportunity to get feedback and advice from highly experienced neurosurgeons, who provided guidance on diagnostics, surgical techniques, and case management. 

“We are committed to training our international students in the very latest learnings in all areas of neurosurgical brain conditions,” says Dr. Knopman, “but it’s also imperative for them to master communication and presentation skills. Presenting cases to colleagues is a critical developmental skill for neurosurgeons. Learning to provide the right information and ask the right questions during case reviews is extraordinarily helpful and leads directly to improvements in patient care.”

A week after the brain seminar, international experts in spine surgery assembled for the second course. The spine course was co-directed by Dr. Roger Härtl and Dr. Claudius Thomé, who have led these OMI spine courses together for many years in both Salzburg and Mexico City. During the spine week, 34 fellows from 25 countries attended lectures followed by hands-on training in a cadaver lab. In addition to Dr. Härtl, Weill Cornell Medicine spine experts on hand included Dr. Ibrahim HussainDr. Lynn McGrathDr. Michael S. Virk, and  by Zoom  Dr. K. Daniel Riew.

2023 OMI spine faculty included (L-R) Drs. Lynn McGrath, Michael Virk,  Massimo Balsano, Roger Hartl, and Wolfgang Aulitzky

2023 OMI spine faculty included (L-R) Drs. Lynn McGrath, Michael Virk, Massimo Balsano, Roger Hartl, and Wolfgang Aulitzky

Over the course of the week, fellows attended 19 lectures on topics including Spinal Surgery and Evidence-Based Outcomes, Traumatic Spinal Injury Management, Spinal Metastases, Management of Cervical Radiculopathy and Myelopathy, 6 Ts of Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery, Management of Idiopathic Scoliosis, Enabling Technologies in Spine Surgery, and more. Spine fellows also made case presentations for faculty feedback and advice on challenging cases they had faced in their home countries.

“This is one of my favorite courses of the year,” says Dr. Härtl. “Not only does it bring me back to one of the loveliest places in the world, but it gives me the opportunity to teach — and learn from — spine surgeons from around the globe. As much as I am gratified by being able to teach here, I am also impressed, every time, by how much I have to learn from these fellows. These international seminars truly are unique opportunities for global learning.”

The Open Medical Institute (OMI) was founded in 1993 by the American Austrian Foundation (AAF) and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine for the purpose of training international fellows to improve healthcare in their home countries. Since its founding, the OMI has awarded more than 27,000 fellowships to physicians from 130 different countries.

See slide show below of 2023 courses:

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