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Dr. Carlos David, a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in skull base surgery and cerebrovascular neurosurgery, joined the UNC Neurosurgery faculty this fall as a Professor of Neurosurgery.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Carlos David - UNC Neurosurgery
Skull base and cerebrovascular neurosurgeon Dr. Carlos David in the OR.

In October 1988, Dr. David saw his first live human brain while shadowing the chief neurosurgery resident as a third-year medical student. When the chief resident opened the dura, Dr. David was amazed by the appearance, colors, and textures of the human brain. He found that the organ was not only aesthetically pleasing, but was awed by the realization that this organ separated humans from all other living organisms on earth. That night, at 3:41 a.m., Dr. David knew he wanted to become a neurosurgeon. “From that moment on, nothing else compared,” recalled Dr. David. “I knew I had to be a neurosurgeon.”

When Dr. David entered his neurosurgery residency program at the University of Miami, he became enamored with the brain’s vascular system. He had the great fortune of working under renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Skip Peerless. Dr. David was mesmerized by Dr. Peerless’ bloodless precision and the elegance he brought to his meticulous surgical technique.

Later, his good fortune continued as he was afforded the opportunity to learn vascular and skull base surgery from two other giants that became his most endeared mentors: Dr. Roberto Heros, the Co-Chairman of the Neurosurgery department at the University of Miami, and Dr. Robert Spetzler, the director of the Barrow Neurological Institute, where he completed his 18-month fellowship in cerebrovascular and skull base neurosurgery.

Dr. David plays the piano, and for him, watching his mentors’ virtuoso surgical performances delicately treating the most formidable lesions compared to watching a professional pianist perform. Skull base surgery requires delicate, microsurgical work. The technical aspect of this specialty resonated with Dr. David as he continued to observe and learn from his mentors.

Dr. Carlos David with his wife.

An early and important lesson that Dr. David learned from his neurosurgical mentors was to constantly evolve. Observe, reevaluate, and modify technique, always asking “how can I have done this better?” Striving for better and challenging norms in order to provide the best possible care for his patients. He often tells his residents; “stagnation is the enemy.”

In addition to patient care, Dr. David has always found fulfillment in teaching neurosurgery. “I get this incredible thrill out of teaching,” said Dr. David. “Teaching is incredibly important to me and fulfills a big part of why I do this.” Through years of experience giving lectures, running clerkships, mentorships, participating in admissions committees, and co-directing the neurosurgery residency program at Lahey Clinic-Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Dr. David has become well-experienced in medical education and has a lot to share with UNC Neurosurgery’s group of residents.

“I respect and admire Dr. Nelson Oyesiku and what he has accomplished in all aspects of neurosurgery,”

Dr. David’s two children.

Dr. David had always enjoyed an academic career, and when the opportunity presented itself, he knew UNC Neurosurgery was the perfect fit for his interests in both neurosurgery and resident education. In addition to a great neurosurgery program and the academic opportunity, Dr. David and his wife fell in love with Chapel Hill and enjoyed meeting the other faculty and residents. “I respect and admire Dr. Nelson Oyesiku and what he has accomplished in all aspects of neurosurgery,” said Dr. David. The opportunity to work under Dr. Oyesiku’s direction is an exciting one for Dr. David.

After his first day in the operating room, Dr. David knew that he had made the right choice coming to UNC Health. “The operating room team is great,” said Dr. David. “I finished the case and called my wife and told her ‘I had a great case, everyone was awesome, it was fun again’,” said Dr. David.

Dr. David also served as a Commander in the United States Naval Reserve from 1998 through 2009. He served on active duty during Operation Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom, receiving various decorations including the Naval and Marine Corps Commendation medal for his service.

One of Dr. David’s unique hobbies is keeping coral reef tanks. He enjoys seeing the vibrant colors and textures.

Dr. Carlos David’s range of expertise includes all skull base and complex brain tumors, endoscopic skull base surgery, and all aspects of cerebrovascular surgery, including bypass surgery. He is active in organized neurosurgery having served as past vice chair of the AANS/CNS Section on Cerebrovascular Surgery. He is an officer in the North American Skull Base Society. In 2020, he was honored with the Samuel Moschella Clinical Educator of the Year award. In April 2022 he was honored by the AANS/CNS section on cerebrovascular surgery when he was invited to give the Donaghy lecture.

Another hobby of Dr. David is astrophotography.

Dr. David enjoys spending time with his wife and two children. His hobbies include playing the piano, astrophotography, and keeping coral reef tanks. “I am a very visual person,” said Dr. David. “I am intrigued by the colors and textures. Astrophotography and coral reefs have the same visual appeal of the brain.” Based on his eclectic list of hobbies outside of the hospital, it’s safe to say that Dr. David found the perfect career that utilizes his dexterity from years of piano while also allowing him to regularly operate on the most beautiful organ in the human body.