Interview with Suneeta Gollapudy, MD

Marie Angele Theard, MD

Dr. Theard
Marie Angele Theard, MD

Dr. Suneeta Gollapudy, Associate professor of Anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, serves as the Division Chief of Neuroanesthesiology. She has successfully provided a structured neuroanesthesiology rotation for residents, which includes expert didactics and good clinical cases. Key to her success has been promoting a healthy collaboration with respect between the members of the entire neuroanesthesia/neurological surgery team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, residents, operating room, and interventional radiology staff. 

Dr. Suneeta Gollapudy is a member of the Quiz Team of SNACC’s Education Committee. As a member of the Trainee Education committee, she helps to coordinate the blogs for SNACC’s challenging cases in neuroanesthesia. I hope you enjoy reading about another path of one of the WINNERs of SNACC.

Dr. Gollapudy
Dr. Suneeta Gollapudy

What/Who influenced you to choose a career in neuroanesthesia?
I started my career as a general anesthesiologist with a mix of spine and craniotomy cases at the Medical College of Wisconsin. In 2008, I offered to help in the multi-institutional POVL project with Dr. Lori Lee. It was this interesting review project that led me to look at the sub-specialty of neuroanesthesiology more seriously. I started spending more time focusing on neurosurgery cases and teaching neuroanesthesiology to residents along with the then-Division Director, Dr. Lauer. These experiences resembled a "mini-fellowship," as I was focusing almost entirely on neuroanesthesia.

How have your mentors helped you in your career in anesthesia/neuroanesthesia?
As I started focusing more of my time and efforts in neuroanesthesiology, I advanced to the position of Division Director on the recommendation of my former Division Director, Dr. Kathryn Lauer. I developed a focused neuroanesthesiology rotation for the residents with didactics which was very well received by the residents and has since been one of the most appreciated rotations.

Drs. Lois Connolly, Lauer, and Harvey Woehlck have been my mentors throughout this journey. With their guidance, I pursued clinical studies, involved myself in quality projects, and became part of national and international societies. I also have gained other mentors and multiple friends through SNACC who have guided me and helped me in various capacities.

How did you find out about SNACC and when did you join?
Dr. Kathy Lauer introduced me to SNACC and I joined in 2008. I became involved in the Education Committee in 2015 with the help of Dr. Deepak Sharma, who was kind enough to aid me throughout the process.

Which area of clinical neuroanesthesia interests you the most? Why?
Endovascular and open intravascular surgeries are both fascinating areas of neuroanesthesia. The criticality of strict blood pressure control during these procedures is key for helping to promote a favorable outcome after reperfusion. One example I like to share with my residents is the case of an acute stroke for carotid stenting where the initial angiographic scan showed no flow in one half of the cerebral hemisphere. After stenting, we began increasing the blood pressure very gradually while looking at the brain scans. A slight elevation in blood pressure caused hyperemia, which was reflected on the scan, and we were directed to bring the pressure down again to the previous lower pressure, where the scan was normal. This is usually not appreciated in open intravascular surgery and is so critical to helping our trainees understand their role in managing these neurosurgical patients.

In addition, complex spine surgery and creating protocols (ERAS, pain management, etc.) are also some of my passions in neuroanesthesia. Creating protocols and analyzing the results qualitatively enhances patient care.  Overall, these protocols help in standardizing patient care. However, the notion of ‘one size fits all’ can never be completely true for any field of surgery, and especially not for neurosurgery.

What area of neuroscience research most interests you, and/or what is the focus of your neuroscience research?
I am more of a clinician and educator, and I am interested in clinical studies in neuroanesthesia. I have been involved in a spine stem cell study and neuroimaging of anesthetic modulation of human consciousness.

What has been the most gratifying aspect of your academic career?
Resident and medical student education.  Interacting with trainees daily, getting to know them, and learning from them have been my most gratifying experiences in the academic setting.  I like to say that the residents and students keep you and your brain cells young.

What has been the highlight of educating residents/fellows in neuroanesthesiology?
The increase in appreciation of their neuroanesthesiology rotation. In their neuroanesthesiology rotation, the residents experience both simple and complex cases, all under a very structured didactic schedule. This rotation is very rewarding as the residents start with minimal knowledge of neurosurgical case management and conclude with the confidence to handle even the most complex neurosurgery cases.

In addition to this, while I have not had the pleasure of training many fellows, I have had one who has excelled in his work. He is now a colleague of mine and has been accumulating accomplishments in basic research.

What advice/story would you like to share with medical students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty choosing a career in neuroanesthesiology?
My advice to medical students, residents, and junior faculty interested in choosing neuroanesthesiology as their career would be to look at the specialty with different eyes.  Neuroanesthesiology is a hidden gem in the field that transforms you into a "whole physician." You must know anatomy, physiology, medicine, surgery, neurosciences, biochemistry, and pharmacology--in fact, all the subjects you read during medical school--and must constantly put them into practice. Whenever I am in the operating room, I rave about the unique physiology of the brain and how we, as neuroanesthesiologists, keep the brain and spine healthy. Furthermore, I stress how important it is to understand the physics and chemistry of neurosurgery and understand the pharmacodynamics of various drugs on brain health. I have had many medical students choose the field of anesthesiology because of these discussions.

What is your advice to women interested in pursuing work in this field?
In my medical career in India, I had chosen to be a surgeon as I love the hands-on nature and acuity of the specialty, but very soon, I realized that it was not for me as I did not see a good work/life balance. I also realized that the other side of the ether screen held the same qualities I was looking for in a specialty while maintaining that work/life balance. I then decided to pursue this field, and I have never looked back. After finishing my residency in anesthesiology in India, I practiced for three years. When I came to the US, I continued my journey in anesthesiology by redoing my residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin and then joining as a faculty. It has been a very fulfilling career for me. I would suggest that women should find a mentor early on for guidance and support. Women mentors are better, I feel, as they understand the dynamics. The SNACC network is worth looking into for ideas and professional growth. The WINNER circle would be a good source.

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