2013 Top Doctor: Dr. William Stevens

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Medical school: Brown University (Class of '87)

Years in practice: 19 (since completing fellowship at UC San Francisco in 1994)

Why did you choose spine surgery?
I became interested in spinal surgery while taking care of patients with scoliosis and other spinal deformities when I was an intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I enjoyed the challenge and rewards of helping people with often disabling problems lead fuller lives.

What should people do to avoid common spine problems?
The best thing that you can do to avoid common spine problems is maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, and not smoking all have tremendous benefits. Most of my patients know what cigarette smoking can do to your heart and lungs, but are completely unaware of how much damage it does to the discs in the spine.

What's the most exciting recent medical advancement in your field?
We have seen several exciting advances in recent years, including minimally invasive surgery. But I think that the most exciting advances are not technical, but thoughtful – especially our improved understanding of spinal balance. Many problems typically associated with spinal fusion are really problems resulting from incorrect alignment, and can be avoided now that we can determine the correct alignment for each individual as we plan surgery.

What distinguishes your practice from others?
I am a surgeon, but our practice philosophy considers the whole patient, not just the spine or the next operation. Our rehab specialist, Dr. Amber Hennehoefer, partners with me to prepare complicated patients for surgery, and helps to coordinate complex recoveries. Best of all, she helps many patients to avoid surgery altogether.