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This year has brought many unseen challenges for health care providers around the world. Despite the many challenges, our department has adapted to the changes by implementing temporary changes to keep patients and our faculty safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In December, Dr. Nelson Oyesiku was selected as the new Chair for the Department of Neurosurgery. Dr. Oyesiku will join UNC Neurosurgery from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  Dr. Oyesiku’s clinical and research focus is the surgical treatment and molecular biology of pituitary tumors. We look forward to working with him when he officially joins the UNC Neurosurgery faculty in the spring of 2021. Dr. Eldad Hadar has served as the interim chair for over a year, and we thank him for his hard work and dedication to the department.

To keep our patients safe, our department transitioned patients to telemedicine appointments when possible. Telemedicine appointments allowed our providers to safely evaluate patients during the coronavirus pandemic while still maintaining close relationships with our patients. We will continue to utilize telemedicine until it is safe to see non-urgent patients in person again. PGY5 neurosurgery resident Dr. Randaline Barnett was awarded the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Neurosurgery Award for her study of telemedicine in pediatric neurosurgical practice during the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect on healthcare disparities.

Neurosurgery residency COVID-19 virtual learningOur neurosurgery residents started deliberate practice with microscopes at home thanks to the medical foundation Covid-19 relief fund. Philanthropic donations enabled us to provide each of our residents with micro-instruments at home as well as some new simulators. Weekly Zoom labs allowed faculty to give real time feedback to residents.

Our two chief residents, Dr. Michael Cools and Nathan Davis, completed their neurosurgery residencies this spring. Dr. Michael Cools matched at Vanderbilt University’s pediatric neurosurgery fellowship and will be their first fellow. Our PGY 7 neurosurgery resident Dr. Weston Northam matched into the pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. Our PGY 6 resident Dr. Michael Catalino matched into the neuro oncology fellowship at MD Anderson.

We also added two new PGY 1 residents, Drs. Nicole Silva and Bethany Andrews, to our department this summer. Our department also hosted virtual neurosurgery residency interviews in November.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our second annual Spina Bifida Family Conference became our first virtual conference. The conference was organized by our pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Hildebrand, and featured presentations on topics for spina bifida patients, and their caregivers and families. Despite a few technical glitches, the conference was a great success and provided valuable information to our spina bifida community, as well as patients outside of our region.

Dawn Kernagis, Ph.D joined our faculty this year as an Assistant Professor studying neuroprotective strategies for individuals who will be exposed to high physiological stress. Dr. Kernagis has an impressive research background, having served as a crew member of the NASA NEEMO XXI undersea mission, runs her own podcast, and is the recipient of many awards. Learn more about Dr. Kernagis and her research interests –>

Dr. Sasaki-Adams participating in a virtual interview discussing heart attack and stroke in COVID-19.

Despite the restrictions of Covid-19, members of our faculty and our residents participated in virtual conferences, presentations, discussions and news interviews, lending their expertise to discussions centered on Covid-19, Telehealth, pediatric neurosurgery, hydrocephalus, and more.

Wishing all of our patients and all health care providers a safe, happy, and healthy new year in 2021.