Orthopedic spine surgeon at Excel Spine talks fostering a ‘tribe mentality’ with his team

Choll Kim, MD, PhD, is the founder of Minimally Invasive Spine Centers of Excellence, founder and former president of the Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and currently an orthopedic spine surgeon at the San Diego-based Excel Spine Center.

Dr. Kim will lead the presentation “Developing a Concierge Spine Practice in a Spine Center of Excellence” at Becker’s ASC Annual Meeting. As part of an ongoing series, Becker’s is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference on Oct. 27-29 in Chicago.

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Question: What is the smartest thing you've done in the last year to set your organization up for success? 

Choll Kim: I started taking the first full week of every month for “admin time.”  I work from home and attend to those long-term projects that I seem to never have time for otherwise. It also allows me to be thoughtful and creative, which is becoming more and more difficult to do at night and on the weekends, especially when I am tired from a busy work day. I always harp on my patients to be healthy and fit. Now I can practice what I preach, because I love being a spine surgeon and plan to be active and relevant for many more years. 

Q: What are you most excited about right now and what makes you nervous?

CK: As a spine surgeon specializing in minimally invasive techniques, I am very excited about the convergence of several key advancements in the field: emergence of robotics and navigation to improve the safety and efficacy of MIS treatments, greater acceptance of endoscopic techniques, increased focus on outpatient spine surgery, and improved ways to educate and interact with patients through social media. Overall, it is a great time to be a spine surgeon. However, I am nervous about the increasing influence of insurance companies and hospital administrators on the practice of medicine. Our interactions with these entities have always been somewhat adversarial, and as a physician, I feel less and less empowered in the relationship. I hope physicians can better cooperate to make our voices heard in this era of insurance provider consolidation and population explosion in administrative personnel. 

Q: How are you thinking about growth over the next 12 months? 

CK: Rather than trying to be a jack of all trades, I plan to focus on a few surgeries done “perfectly.” I particularly enjoy endoscopic spine surgery, one and two level cervical disc replacements and one and two level MIS lumbar fusions. By having a laser focus on a few procedures, I hope to maximize clinical outcomes and while optimizing efficiencies, especially in the ASC setting, where I will have more impact on day to day decision making in the workplace. 

Q: What will healthcare executives and leaders need to be effective leaders for the next five years?

CK: Our physician leaders will need to better understand the language and culture of our insurance company executives and hospital administrators so that we can meaningfully participate in directing the future of our healthcare system. 

Q: What is your strategy for recruiting and retaining great teams? 

CK: My primary strategy for having a great team is to foster a “tribe” mentality. Humans need to be part of a group that protects, nurtures and promotes each individual member of the team.  My practice focuses on excellence, setting goals and adhering to the law of “CANI” — Continuous and Never-ending Improvement. We celebrate our accomplishments with intensity, and so too our shortcomings. It is not easy, but it is never ever boring!

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