WINNER in Focus: An Interview with Ines Koerner, MD, PhD, FNCS

Marie Angele Théard, MD
Chair, Membership Committee

Dr. Theard
Marie Angele Théard, MD
Rutesg Kansakm NDm DN
Ines Koerner MD, PhD, FNCS

Welcome to WINNER in Focus, a section dedicated to the Women In Neuroanesthesiology and Neuroscience Education and Research (WINNER). Ines Koerner MD, PhD, FNCS has been a member of SNACC since 2002. She is Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and Neurological Surgery and serves as Medical Director of the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at OHSU in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Koerner is currently Chair of the SNACC Research Committee and continues to serve on the Scientific Affairs Committee. One of the highlights of our first standalone SNACC meeting in Arizona this year was Dr. Koerner’s wonderful welcome of last year’s Bill Young Research Award recipients who were given an opportunity to share with us some of their work during our poolside gala fundraiser. Thank you to Dr. Koerner, the Research Committee, and all SNACC members for their support of the Bill Young Research Award. I hope that you enjoy reading about the inspiration and efforts of another one of our SNACC WINNERs, Dr. Ines Koerner.  

M. Théard: What/who influenced you to choose a career in neuroanesthesia?
I. Koerner: I have been fascinated for a long time by the brain. During medical school, I was impressed by the brain’s complexity. As a young anesthesia resident, I realized just how little I knew about the brain’s secrets. I was astonished by its profound vulnerability, and yet remarkable resilience, and wanted to understand the mechanisms behind this. The brain is the ultimate target organ for the anesthesiologist – what better way of spending my time than to focus my professional effort on this most fascinating of organs?

M. Théard: Where did you receive most of your training in neuroanesthesia?
I. Koerner: I completed a post-doc neuroscience fellowship and a clinical critical care fellowship at OHSU after my anesthesia/critical care residency and neuroscience research training at the Johannes Gutenberg - University in Mainz, Germany.

M. Théard: How did you find out about SNACC?
I. Koerner: During my residency, as I became more involved in neuroscience research, my mentor Ansgar Brambrink suggested that I present my work at SNACC. In 2002, I attended my first international meeting.  I loved the community and scientific rigor of the meeting. I joined SNACC and have attended every meeting since.

M. Théard: Which area of clinical neuroanesthesia interests you the most?  Why?
I. Koerner: My focus is on neurocritical care. There is so much untapped potential. Understanding the physiology of the injured brain and the brain at risk provides us an opportunity to positively impact the neurologically injured who are critically ill.

M. Théard: What is/has been the focus of your neuroscience research?
I. Koerner: My research focuses on ischemic brain injury and recovery from injury. Currently, we are exploring how microglia, the brain resident immune cells, direct neuronal death and regeneration after cardiac arrest.

M. Théard: What has been the most challenging aspect of your educational career and/or training?
I. Koerner: After I completed a post-doc fellowship in neuroscience research at OHSU, chairman Jeff Kirsch offered me faculty position that allowed me to combine clinical practice with protected research time. My love of research made it an easy choice to stay at OHSU rather than return to Germany, as initially planned. I was very fortunate to have a supportive husband who was willing to move across continents with me and restart his own career in the US. Moving to the US after completing my training in Europe meant another round of exams. I found myself taking many more standardized tests than I ever cared to.

M. Théard: At what point in your career did you meet your first mentor/s?
I. Koerner: During one of my first overnight calls as a young resident, I was working with an attending I had not met before. He had recently returned to Mainz after spending several years as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins. We started talking about his research; I was fascinated and joined his group pretty immediately. The attending was Ansgar Brambrink, who went on to become President of SNACC in 2011.

M. Théard: What has been the most gratifying aspect of your academic career?
I. Koerner: The most gratifying aspect of working in academia is that I am able to mentor and teach trainees at all stages of their careers and learn from them. I love being challenged and stimulated by their ideas and energy.

M. Théard: What advice/story would you like to share with medical students, residents, fellows, and/or junior faculty choosing a career in neuroanesthesia?
I. Koerner: Be collaborative and aim to understand every aspect of your patient’s experience. There is so much we don’t know or understand. Keeping an open mind is essential.

M. Théard: What is your advice to women interested in pursuing work in this field?
I. Koerner: My advice would be the same for women in other fields – invest in formal and informal networks and aim to mentor, support and sponsor each other. The neuroscience of anesthesiology and critical care is the most fascinating field there is and will make for a stimulating and rewarding career.

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