Newsletter 24 | February 2020
Peer support: Mohammad El-Sharkawi
A leading light in AO Spine, Professor Mohammad El-Sharkawi of Assiut University, Egypt, has blazed a trail in teaching and research methodologies, supporting the next generation of spine surgeons to make their mark. Here, Professor El-Sharkawi explains why AO Spine is his family.
What is your specialty and what does a typical workday for you look like?
I’m an orthopedic spine surgeon, trained in Egypt and in Germany. I focus on deformities and degenerative conditions, but I do all kinds of spine surgeries. My typical week is spread over five days. I have commitments in my university from 8am–2pm doing surgeries, outpatient clinics, and teaching. I also have an administrative position as Vice Dean for Research and Post Graduate Studies, which takesFor young surgeons I really wish that they would consider not choosing what’s available, but what they love to do. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t be good at it. time out of my medical practice, but I enjoy it. From 2–5pm I work in my private practice and I operate after that. I usually finish between 10pm and midnight. It’s a long day but I do usually have two days for the weekend—unless I am travelling for AO Spine activities!
Looking back at your career, did you always want to go into spine or did you come to it by chance?
To tell you the truth, no. I always thought of spine surgery, but I was hoping to do microsurgery, which was new at the time. Spine surgery was my second choice, but I love it and I love the challenge. If I had to do it all over again, I would still choose spine. For young surgeons I really wish that they would consider not choosing what’s available, but what they love to do. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t be good at it.
Who has most influenced you in your professional career?
I’m blessed because I’ve known so many people who really influenced my career. My late father was a professor of medicine. I learned a lot from him. Also, my mentor and senior professor, Professor Galal Z. Said, taught me everything I know and was the one who encouraged me to join AO. I’m trying to follow his footsteps.
How has spine surgery in the Middle East changed since you started your career?A couple of years ago, we treated almost 600 thoracolumbar fractures in my university hospital in one year. Other countries in the region may have faster access to the newest technologies, but we see and treat patients from all over the region and have many challenging cases here.
I started in the early 90's, and the only spine surgery we were doing regularly was open discectomy and laminectomy. The specialty then started to evolve with the development of various spine implants and the introduction of newer technologies into my country. Things started to change rapidly, and we’re now doing the most complex surgeries all over the region. As the biggest country in the region, Egypt has 100 million people and the highest number of universities. A couple of years ago, we treated almost 600 thoracolumbar fractures in my university hospital in one year. Other countries in the region may have faster access to the newest technologies, but we see and treat patients from all over the region and have many challenging cases here.
Can you tell us more about your work with AO PEER?
I had an interest in research a long time ago and I realized that I didn’t know how to do it. I started searching around and did several courses on research methodology, which showed me there’s a science to it—it has to be done in the right way. I also realized there were very few similar courses in my country and my region. Through my position in AO Spine I started pushing people to organize research courses. This was before AO PEER started. We had several research methodology courses in Dubai, and I chaired one in Cairo in June 2015. I then became Vice Dean for Research and Postgraduate Studies, so this is now part of my job—teaching people how to do research, organizing activities for them, trying to help them. I have a lot of people helping me with this in my university. We applied for Spine Research Mentorship and were chosen among a few centers around the world. Through this, we were also involved in two multi-center studies. After this, I got my certificate of training from AO PEER and applied to become a teacher. They chose me, and I taught in Davos this year. I enjoyed it greatly and gained a lot of experience. Having the chance to share this with AO PEER teachers from all over the world was really beneficial and enjoyable.AO PEER helps people follow the right process, from setting the research question onwards. We should not wait until the research is done and then teach people how to get it published. AO PEER is designed to walk you through the process, from initial concept to manuscript submission, from the very beginning to the last step. The great thing is, it can be adapted and used all over the world.
How does AO PEER help researchers?
AO PEER helps people follow the right process, from setting the research question onwards. We should not wait until the research is done and then teach people how to get it published. AO PEER is designed to walk you through the process, from initial concept to manuscript submission, from the very beginning to the last step. The great thing is, it can be adapted and used all over the world.
What lessons do you try to teach your own fellows?
In our university, we mentor our fellows but also encourage them to gain experience outside the country, maybe in Europe, in the Far East, or in the United States. I’ve always appreciated the need to see what other people are doing and see new ideas. We try to give them this opportunity through communication with centers all over the world and, as a recently accredited Spine Center, we are looking forward to receiving our first fellows through that.
How has AO Spine supported you in your own career?
It has supported me a lot. I attended my first AO course in 1997—before there was an AO Spine—and my first Spine course in 2005. I have been an AO Spine member since it began. Before that I was a member of AO Trauma. In 2012 I became Chairman of AO Spine Egypt and in 2016 Education Officer for the Middle East Region. Now I am the Chairperson for the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. It has been a long journey and every part of it has influenced my career, improved my practice, my communication skills, my knowledge, and my ability to transfer this to my colleagues and fellows. AO Spine is my family.
Will you be at Global Spine Congress in Rio de Janeiro in May? If you are a spine surgeon, you have to be at Global Spine Congress.
I’ve been to Buenos Aires, Dubai, Milan, Singapore, and Toronto. Rio will be my sixth GSC, and I see how it’s evolving and growing. If I’m going to choose one Congress to attend it will be this, because it’s the biggest, it offers every spine surgeon what they need, whether they are a fellow or senior, specializing in deformity, fractures, or tumors. If you are a spine surgeon, you have to be at Global Spine Congress.
Biography: Mohammad El-Sharkawi, MDChairperson AO Spine Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)Senior Consultant of Spine Surgery, Assiut University HospitalProfessor of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery,Faculty of Medicine, Assiut University, Egypt www.aun.edu.eg