Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute Physicians Use Leadership and Strategic Partnerships to Elevate Neurosurgical Care

News | 24 days ago

Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute Physicians Use Leadership and Strategic Partnerships to Elevate Neurosurgical Care

It’s not every day that two doctors from Atrium Health find themselves on nearly identical career paths while working together within the same organization. Longtime friends and neurosurgeons Drs. Anthony Asher and John Wilson are using their leadership experience to improve the quality of care for neuroscience patients.

Dr. Anthony Asher, president and enterprise service line leader of Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute and surgical director of the adult Neuro-Oncology Program at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, has been named president-elect of the American Association of Neurosurgeons (AANS). Asher is following in the footsteps of teammate Dr. John Wilson, vice chair of the department of neurosurgery at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and co-executive director of the Neurosciences Institute at Wake Forest Baptist, who was president of the AANS in 2020. Both physicians are working together to improve care for neuroscience patients across Atrium Health.

The AANS is the second oldest neurosurgical organization in the world. Founded as the Harvey Cushing Society, the organization advocates for members and patients affected by neurological issues. It also promotes education and research while mentoring young surgeons who aspire to careers in neurosurgery.

“The AANS helps neurosurgeons improve their level of care through continuing education and research. It also supports tools and registries that define better patient outcomes,” Wilson says.

Asher adds, “Through the AANS, we’re not only working to improve patient experience and outcomes here at Atrium Health but also across all neurosurgical practices, both nationally and internationally.”

Parallel pathways

Asher and Wilson met during the formative stages of their careers and have been friends for almost two decades. During this time, they’ve followed similar pathways in their personal and professional lives. Notably, their birthdays are only three weeks apart.

“I kept bumping into John at national forums related to essential subjects relevant to neurosurgical science, education and care,” says Asher. “That suggested to me we had a similar sense of purpose and a shared appreciation for what activities might allow us to have the highest possible impact on our specialty and the patients we serve.”

Their personal and professional relationship developed organically and was based in common experiences with deep mutual respect. Asher and Wilson additionally share similar family values and enjoy the outdoors and sports. Their children are similar in age and even went to the same summer camp together.

This foundation made it easy for them to stay in communication and overcome challenges as they worked together when Atrium Health combined with Wake Forest. Now, they are moving forward together as one neurosciences institute.

“In building a national caliber neuroscience institute, we knew we could leverage all our previous experiences, including the trust we built and how we understood each other personally and professionally,” Asher explains. “Plus, John had a great existing relationship with our group since he trained some of my partners while they were neurosurgical residents at Wake Forest Baptist.”

Asher and Wilson have followed similar leadership pathways in their neurosurgical careers. For example, both physicians were named treasurer and then president of the AANS just a couple years apart.

“To have two people of the same generation rise to the same leadership positions across our specialty and work with the same leadership group at one institution is unprecedented,” Wilson says.

Only two other physicians from the same institution have served as president of the AANS in its history, but they were separated by decades. 

Wilson adds, “The similarities of our pathways to leadership are symbolic of the shared philosophies of our group of neuroscience and neurosurgery experts across Atrium Health. For example, our dedication to providing the highest quality of care for all patients we serve allows us to continually create amazing success stories for these patients and their families.”

When Wilson called Asher to tell him about the presidency, Asher could sense the excitement in his voice.

“After two decades of continuous service, it was like hearing ‘job well done’ from a good friend,” Asher explains. “He assured me that it was an important achievement that was well deserved. I’ll always remember that. It was a big deal to him, and it was a big deal to me.”

Neurosurgical leadership

Asher’s appointment comes after his senior leadership roles within other key neurosurgical organizations, including the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS), The American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) and the AANS/CNS Joint Section on Tumors.

In 2009, Asher began leading clinical data projects for the AANS, which allowed the organization to better understand patient experiences during and following along with their functional outcomes. He previously developed a national database to allow neurosurgeons to participate in self-assessments of surgical knowledge.

After working as a technical and strategic consultant, Asher became the AANS’ director of data programs, which led to him to being named to its executive committee. At the same time, he was named to the executive committee of the ABNS, creating a synergistic relationship between the two organizations. With the support of other ABNS directors including Wilson, he subsequently used his experiences building other clinical data systems to spearhead the development of the ABNS’ clinical practice assessment system, which has become a foundational element of neurosurgical board certification.

Asher served as treasurer for the AANS from 2019-2022 before being named president-elect in April 2022. He will officially become the AANS president in April 2023. 

Asher’s appointment as president recognizes his pivotal role in developing many novel neurosurgical education processes and driving the implementation of national professional assessment and quality improvement methods. He’s been involved in every major national neurosurgical clinical database created over the last 14 years. These tools are now routinely used to promote care safety and value, facilitate specialty assessment programs, improve patient experience and allow for continuous professional improvement.  

Asher has represented neurosurgery and other medical specialties in leadership and advisory roles to a variety of national quality stakeholders, including the AMA National Quality Registry Network, the National Quality Forum, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, The Joint Commission and the HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections.

As president, Asher will continue to help physicians assess their own performance and improve their decision-making by making quality tools more accessible and relevant to neurosurgeons in all practice settings. He hopes to inspire the next generation of surgical leaders to expand and continually refine such tools in the future for the benefit of patients everywhere.  

“To build a successful neuroscience program, John and I know how important it is to create a supportive and inclusive culture that encourages interest and excitement in what we do,” Asher says. “Team-oriented, mission-driven environments can expose and express latent talent while inspiring people to continuously strive to do the right thing.” He adds, “We make our patients the focus every day. We seek to pursue our patient-centered ethos in a value-based framework that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion, along with environmental and social responsibility. As such, we routinely strive to create partnerships among our teammates and all essential partners to maximize our considerable collective potential.”

Clinical and academic excellence across regions

The Neurosciences Institute promotes and delivers clinical, scientific and educational excellence across the Greater Charlotte and Winston-Salem areas. For example, the institute has two nationally recognized neurosurgery residency training programs.

“Training the next generation of physicians is one of the most rewarding things we do,” Asher notes. “Our ability to effect meaningful change and magnify our impact as surgical leaders is largely based on our success in transferring technical knowledge and clinical judgement skills to those who will succeed us – and hopefully exceed us – as innovators dedicated to the art and science of healing.”

The quality of care delivered by physicians and nurses within the Neurosciences Institute is reflected by the outcomes science that’s performed and the measured results from clinical outcomes. Unique quality programs include the institute’s Advanced Certification in Spine Surgery and Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification.

The Neurosciences Institute is home to a large number of neuroscience physicians who are recognized by their peers as top experts in their field.

Neurosciences Institute physicians treat a variety of brain, spine and nervous system disorders, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease and dementia
  • Brain tumors
  • Epilepsy
  • General neurology
  • Headache and cognitive impairment
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neuromuscular disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Neurological and spinal conditions and trauma
  • Parkinson's disease and movement disorders
  • Pediatric neurology
  • Sleep medicine
  • Stroke

Learn more about the expert clinical excellence and neurosurgical care at Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Neurology