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Focus on Neill M. Wright, MD

Neill M. Wright, MD is the H. Lourie Professor of Neurological Surgery. He specializes in spinal degenerative disease, minimally invasive surgery, neurological and spine surgery.

Dr. Wright sees patients in both the Neurosurgical Cervical Spine Institute and Spine Center on the sixth floor of the Center for Advanced Medicine located at the corner of Forest Park and Euclid Avenues, and at the West County Neurosurgery Office located at 1040 North Mason Road.


What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty?

I have been fascinated by the nervous system since my first neurosurgery rotation in medical school. It is one part of the body for which we are still searching for answers. For the most part, we know how the heart and lungs work, for example, but the brain and nervous system still hold some unanswered questions. Neurosurgery attracted me because I saw the potential to contribute something new in my lifetime to this field.

Dr. Neill Wright and his wife

Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?

There are several different aspects of neurosurgery that I find highly interesting. Developing new minimally invasive surgery techniques holds a lot of interest for me because it is opening up the possibilities of surgery to more people, who previously were not candidates for traditional types of surgery.

The rapid advancements in the technology of spinal surgery are proving to be very exciting. It is amazing that every year there are new developments in both surgery and treatments. Today we are able to offer patients so many more options with better outcomes, more preservation of motion, and less invasive surgeries than ever before. Neurosurgery is always changing and it is always changing for the better.

Where are you from originally?

My parents are British, so I was fortunate to spend a lot of my early childhood in Europe. My father is a scientist, so we moved around a lot. However, for the most part I grew up in Los Angeles and then came to Washington University School of Medicine in 1993 for my residency training. Growing up, I never thought I would end up living anywhere, but in Southern California. However, I was won over by the people here and decided to make St. Louis my home. I like the people and lifestyle better here in the Midwest.

Which particular award or achievement is the most gratifying to you?

In terms of awards, I am most proud of receiving the Mayfield Award, for the best research in spinal disorders by a neurosurgery resident. This award is given to one neurosurgery resident from the United States or Canada on an annual basis by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. This was given to recognize the research I did as a resident here at Washington University in the Division of Bone and Mineral Disease under Dr. Louis Avioli.

The achievement I am most proud of is a new technique I developed in 2004 for performing surgery on the top of the neck. It is a much safer procedure than the traditional surgery and is rapidly being adopted by other neurosurgeons around the country.

What types of disorders do you treat and what kinds of patients do you generally see?
I see patients of all ages, adult and some pediatric with complicated spine issues. I treat a very broad range of spine disorders from simple herniated discs to complicated cancers and severe trauma cases.

Do you have a leadership role at Washington University School of Medicine that you would like to share?

I do a fair amount of teaching for visiting neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons in spinal procedures and I also teach new minimally invasive techniques to surgeons in the community and around the country.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

My father raised me with this instruction: I could do whatever I wanted to do for a living, as long as I was the best at it. I think he wanted to make sure that I put my whole heart into whatever I tried to accomplish. I have tried to follow that advice and I feel that it has served me well.

What lifestyle change could most benefit our health?

A huge number of people could avoid spine surgery altogether if they would stop smoking and lose their excess weight. Those two issues contribute to more spinal issues than every other factor combined.

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