Dennis G. Vollmer, MD, completed a surgical internship and neurosurgical residency at the University of Virginia Health System in 1986 and remained on the Neurosurgery faculty for one year. He has returned to UVA this year with vast experience gained over decades spent in a variety of leadership roles, including: Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at The University of Texas-Houston, Head of the Division of Neurological Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and Director of the Gamma Knife Program at Swedish Medical Center. We spoke to him about his varied clinical interests and his recent return to academic medicine.
Where were you prior to coming to UVA?
I was in private practice in Denver, Colorado affiliated with a Level 1 trauma center with a comprehensive stroke program for five years. The clinical responsibilities included complex cranial and spinal neurosurgery. Before that, however, I had worked exclusively in academic medicine for about 22 years. I always enjoyed working with residents, students and young faculty; in private practice, that opportunity was limited, so I felt unfulfilled in that way. This UVA opportunity came around at the perfect time.
What is it about UVA that attracted you?
Every surgeon wants to have colleagues who push you to be better. At UVA, we have an outstanding faculty in neurosurgery, people who are known nationally and internationally. And the same is true for the services with which we interact most — for example, neuroradiology, neurology and neuropathology. These are physicians we can depend on to provide the very best patient care. UVA has the full complement of services and specialties. Plus the university has the advanced equipment necessary to practice at the highest level — for example, an intraoperative MRI.
What will be your clinical focus at UVA?
My focus will be twofold. I will primarily be dealing with disorders of the spine: degenerative conditions, tumors and trauma of the cervical thoracic or lumbar regions. We see a high volume of spine disease at UVA. Drs. Chris Shaffrey and Justin Smith have a major emphasis on spinal deformity and complex reconstruction. I will be largely focusing on some of the more common problems such as spinal stenosis, cervical and lumbar disc herniation, degenerative instability and the like.
My second clinical area of emphasis is the open surgical management of cerebrovascular diseases such as cerebral aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous malformations. This is to complement the efforts of neurosurgeons Kenneth Liu, MD, and Webster Crowley, MD. Finally, I expect to manage a variety of general neurosurgery patients with brain tumors, hydrocephalus and a number of other conditions.
You were appointed by the Governor of Colorado to the State Emergency Medicine and Trauma Advisory Committee — will you be handling trauma cases at UVA as well?
Fortunately, there has been a decrease in the frequency and severity of neurotrauma over the past decades due to airbags and other safety measures. This means neurotrauma comprises less of our clinical volume. I will, of course, cover trauma and emergency cases along with other neurosurgery faculty here at UVA.