Medical Students Represent UConn at Spine Summit

As a mentor, Dr. Ian McNeill opens doors for students to share their work

Four-person environmental portrait

From left: Dr. Ian McNeill, UConn Health neurosurgeon, with three medical students he mentors at the 2023 Spine Summit in Miami Beach, Daniella Dennis, Harrison Dieuveuil, and Maxime Braun (Photo provided by Ian McNeill)

Three UConn medical students and their mentor are back from the 2023 Spine Summit, where they shared their research to peers in neurosurgery and orthopedic spine surgery from throughout the country.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Ian McNeill, one of the neurosurgeons in UConn Health’s Comprehensive Spine Center, rising third-year students Daniella Dennis, Maxime Braun, and Harrison Dieuveuil had two abstracts accepted for presentation. Both had to do with disparities related to patients with Medicaid, based on surveys of neurosurgical institutions and residents.

“This represents the largest number of presentations the University of Connecticut has had at this summit, made more impressive by the fact that our medical students presented this great work,” says Dr. Ketan Bulsara, chief of UConn Health’s Division of Neurosurgery.

The Spine Summit is an annual meeting presented by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves, which brings together neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, spine surgery fellows, students, and advanced practice providers in spinal surgery.

“This event offered an incredible opportunity to learn more about the pioneers within the field of spinal neurosurgery, including their personal stories, motivations, and innovations,” Braun says. “We were also given the chance to contribute our own research to the conference; namely, we presented on the disparities in access to spinal neurosurgery for patients covered by Medicaid. I am very grateful for the mentorship at UConn, without which this experience would not have been possible.”

Braun is undecided on her specialty, but says it likely will be in the neurosciences, and she’s also interested in public health and addressing social disparities in health care.

The students prepared a four-minute electronic video presentation with slides that attendees viewed in kiosks at the summit, held this year in Miami Beach, March 16-19.

“It was a great experience for me as this is my first time attending a research conference for a research project,” Dennis says. “I think it was a wonderful opportunity to experience networking with other physicians and medical students as well as learn about the growing field of neurosurgery and spine care.”

While she’s keeping an open mind going into her clinical rotations, Dennis says she likes surgery, and attending the Spine Summit has her considering neurosurgery as a potential specialty of interest.

“The conference had many interesting presentations about the complexities of spinal surgery, specific case reports, and ways to improve patient outcomes,” Dieuveuil says. “The most impactful presentations involved surgeons telling personal stories of when they made a mistake or failed and how they used that experience to become better for future patients.”

Dieuveuil describes himself as most interested in neurosurgery as a prospective specialty.

Dr. Ian McNeill portrait
Dr. Ian McNeill is a neurosurgeon at UConn Health. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health)

“The importance of the experience for the students is, they’re able to generate research questions that will add to the conversation due to disparities in socio-economic issues in subspecialty care, and health care in general, and also speak to the importance of diversity in medicine,” McNeill says.

Both of the students’ presentations will be candidates for neurosurgery journal publications, he adds.

“I really commend them,” McNeill says. “This is one of the reasons I chose academic medicine and came to UConn, to open doors for students who are hungry for these types of opportunities. My job is to keep that door open so that more students can realize their dreams.”

“Dr. McNeill is recognized nationally for being the founder and leader of Doctors Reaching Minority Males Exploring Neuroscience, a transformative summer mentorship and immersion program,” Bulsara says. “His track record of mentorship combined with our talented medical students at one of the premier public medical schools in the country further highlights the potential for innovative academic contributions that can favorably influence the care of patients regionally and nationally. It also fulfills a critical initiative of the Comprehensive Spine Center, founded by Dr. Hilary Onyiuke and now co-directed by him and Dr. Isaac Moss.”

Learn more about the UConn Health Division of Neurosurgery.

Learn more about the UConn Health Comprehensive Spine Center.