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December 18, 2017

Exporting Brain Surgery to the World

by Zara Jethani

An international fellow visits PNI from Puerto Montt, Chile

International Fellows Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute

Over the past decade, the neurosurgeons at Pacific Neuroscience Institute have made it a priority to train the next generation of neurosurgeons. There are a number of programs that allow national and international neurosurgeons to further their training in the field of pituitary and keyhole skull base surgery. International fellows spend between 3-12 months observing live operations, participating in clinical data-based research projects and studying detailed skull base anatomy in the microdissection laboratory.

Dr. Felipe Sfeir
Dr. Felipe Sfeir

Originally from Santiago, Chile, Dr. Felipe Sfeir attended medical school in Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and completed his residency program at the same institution. Eager to deepen his knowledge and experience, he found out about the International Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery Fellowship & Research Program at PNI through his work at Hospital de Puerto Montt, the main neurosurgical center in South Chile. Dr. Sfeir decided to join the 6-month program and brought his wife and young son to Santa Monica, California in April 2017.

“I have been able to observe all the minimally invasive and tumor cases done by the team and practice the approaches performed in the OR in cadaveric specimens,” says Dr. Sfeir. “I have been able to do more than 50 approaches, visit the clinic and learn the clinical criteria and decisions in many complex tumor cases. In addition, I have participated in the tumor board meetings and research meetings,” he adds.

Microdissection lab
Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian conducting a session in the Microdissection Lab

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, neurosurgeon and director of the Skull Base and Endoscopic Microdissection Laboratory says, “It has been a tremendous pleasure working with Dr. Sfeir. He has helped conduct numerous anatomical dissection studies, assessing the different keyhole approaches we perform regularly. His meticulous and methodical analysis has resulted in a number of abstracts that will be presented at international conferences and are in consideration for publication. I look forward to seeing continued great work from his lab in Chile.”

Dr. Sfeir with PNI medical illustrator Josh Emerson
Dr. Sfeir with PNI medical illustrator Josh Emerson

Dr. Sfeir says, “The most important thing I have learned at PNI is how a neurosurgical practice can be built and can perform in an environment of respect and collaboration.” He says that the opportunity to meet and work with Dr. Daniel Kelly, director of PNI, and all the team has been invaluable. The unique features of the program include the high volume and high-level brain tumor and minimally invasive skull base surgeries that are performed on a daily basis. With one to four international fellows in the program at any one time, the curriculum is personalized to each participant allowing Dr. Sfeir and his colleagues to have maximum access to the brain lab facilities and observation opportunities. “The training I received was supportive and collaborative. There was always a team member available to answer my questions.”

With plans in the works to build out the microdissection lab into a superior state-of-the-art anatomical education facility, Dr. Barkhoudarian is excited about the positive impact on the fellowship program. “The mission of [the microdissection] lab will extend beyond brain surgery to encompass multidisciplinary specialties. Our goals are four-fold: educating clinical fellows, both nationally and internationally, advancing surgical approaches, developing new surgical products and providing advanced education to established surgeons worldwide through conferences and symposia.”

Some of the doctors and fellows at PNI pose with international fellow, Dr. Felipe Sfeir.
Dr. Ninghui Zhou, Dr. Sheri Palejwala, Amy Eisenberg NP, Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian, Dr. Felipe Sfeir, Dr. Xiang Huang, Michelle Philips

As for Dr. Sfeir, the six months have sped by, “The time has passed so fast and I never imagined that I would learn that much,” he says. “I’ve gained anatomic and surgical skills in brain tumor and minimally invasive skull base surgery and I am now taking this clinical knowledge, decision making criteria, and research skills back in my country.” He is looking forward to further developing the endonasal and keyhole program in his home institution as well as establishing a brain tumor patient support group for his patients.

And with big hopes for what he wishes to achieve at Hospital de Puerto Montt and in his career he adds, “I have a lot of plans and desires for my region and for my patients. My plan is to go step by step, with a big picture in mind, but letting life bring what it has to bring. I enjoy what I do, and aim to just keep learning and keep growing.”

For more information about the International Fellows Program, please contact Dr. Barkhoudarian at 310-582-7640.


Zara Jethani, MS, MBA

Zara Jethani, MS, MBA, is the marketing director for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Her background is in graphic design, molecular genetics research and healthcare marketing. 

About the Author

Zara Jethani, MS, MBA

Zara Jethani

Zara is the marketing director at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Her background is in molecular genetics research and healthcare marketing. In addition, she is a graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries.

Last updated: October 16th, 2018