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Neurosurgery alum reflects on robust medical education at IU

Robert B. Sloan, MD, looks back on his time at Indiana University fondly.

The Indianapolis physician spent his entire higher education career at IU. He earned his bachelor’s degree at IU-Bloomington and completed his medical degree and residency at IU School of Medicine.

Sloan, who is the sole neurosurgeon at Community Hospital East, carried out the bulk of that time at IU studying medicine, specifically neurosurgery. As a resident in the Department of Neurological Surgery from 2000-2006, Sloan said he studied neurosurgery “during the perfect time.” He said he received a classical medical education in his residency, and he was taught and experienced newer technologies making their way into the field of neurosurgery at the time.

“I can do it the old school way, and I can do it the new school way,” Sloan said. “I got great training at IU.”

Studying medicine wasn’t the first choice for Sloan. He was a finance major at IU as an undergraduate student and then worked for his father’s company before making a career change to medicine. Ever since graduating from IU School of Medicine, Sloan has been practicing general neurosurgery at Community Health Network in Indianapolis.

Reminiscing on his time at IU School of Medicine, Sloan said each of the faculty physicians had their own strengths, providing him with a well-rounded education.

Paul B. Nelson, MD, the department chair at the time of Sloan’s residency, taught Sloan to treat patients conservatively: first do a thorough physical exam and determine their core issue before beginning surgery. Sloan said Nelson’s goal for patients wasn’t to immediately operate but instead get to know the patient and their problem on a deeper level to make the best decision.

“In today’s world, some people get big surgeries when they need a little surgery,” Sloan said. “It takes a lot more work to do a little surgery because you have to go through the process and find out where the exact problem is happening and make a very focused fix to it as opposed to retreating to everything that looks abnormal on the imaging.”

Sloan said the Department of Neurosurgery has a family environment for its residents. He said Nelson set the tone to not only teach neurosurgery well but to take care of and respect residents. They were encouraged to have a life outside of the hospital, Sloan said. Most residents had families and spent time together at homes and participated in hobbies.

That camaraderie of faculty, residents and staff, coupled with a robust neurosurgical education, still has a positive impact on Sloan now nearly two decades since his time at IU.

“To this day, in the back of my head when I’m looking at patients, I hear my teachers, like Dr. Scott Shapiro, Dr. Mitesh Shah and Dr. Nelson, reminding me about the core values that they taught me, and I don’t forget that,” Sloan said.

Sloan treat patients at Community Hospital East with a myriad of neurological ailments as a general neurosurgeon, and most of his practice is spent seeing patients with spinal cord issues. He continues to collaborate with the Department of Neurological Surgery by building referral relationships with IU neurosurgeons to treat patients that need more specialized care.

“It’s been a good relationship,” Sloan said. “As much as I can send down to IU, I do.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Ben Middelkamp

Ben Middelkamp is a communications manager for the Department of Neurology, Department of Neurological Surgery and Stark Neurosciences Research Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications in December 2019, Ben spent nearly six years as a newspaper reporter in two Indiana cities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Convergent Journalism from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2014. Ben enjoys translating his background in journalism to the communications and marketing needs of the school and its physicians and researchers.