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One of the world’s best neurosurgeons

Interview - May 21, 2014
In an interview with Worldfolio, world renowned neurosurgeon Dr.Ali Zirh, based in Istanbul, Turkey, talks about the challenges and achievements of his career and the state of the Turkish healthcare sector
What inspired you to study and enter the profession of medicine?

I have always had a great interest in biology, especially the body structures and functions of small animals (i.e. reptile, frog, the insect species). So I have tried to explore their bodies whenever I found an opportunity since my childhood. In addition to this ambition of mine, the stronger will of treating patients and diseases have led me to enter the profession of medicine.
What particularly attracted you to neurosurgery?

Neurosurgery was not only the most difficult but also the most challenging subdivision of medicine. I got attracted to this subject and also rapid advance of technology and science in this subspecialty led me to choose neurosurgery.
What is the best part about your profession?

I can say travelling in the labyrinth of the human brain. Even you have performed over 1000 cases, every single case always becomes a new chance to explore, study and improve your knowledge.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

When I came back to Turkey, in 1997, surgery for movement disorders was almost unknown. So I was travelling like a missionary and trying to explain to physicians, especially neurologists that such kind of treatment does exist; but it was extremely difficult in those days. You know; When the thing is newly discovered or invented, people saying ‘it is not true’. When its truth becomes obvious; people saying ‘It is not important’.  When its importance can not be denied, people saying ‘it is not new’. 
What has been the best achievement of your career?

As I mentioned before, every single brain operation gives me a new opportunity to explore and have wider understanding about human brain. It can be a good example of this topic that discovery of  specialized brain area of “taste sensation” in Johns Hopkins University, which brought me the international Electa award in 1997, with the study “Human thalamic nucleus mediating taste and multiple other sensations related to ingestive behavior”. It was presented to me in World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery meeting. 
The another work of establishing a single cell micro-recording and stimulation technique in movement disorders surgery in American Hospital and starting to perform operations with these technique, just right after the few centers in USA, was a great achievement for me.
Recently, one of my severe Dystonia (uncontrollable muscle contractions) patient who was operated in 2012, got pregnant and has got a baby. For a person, who cannot even eat and swallow the food or use a spoon for feeding herself, having a baby with the greatest happiness of being a mother was also a remarkable achievement of my profession.
Having travelled the world with your job gaining an incredible amount of experience and insight, what has been the main advantage of pursuing your career in your home country of Turkey?

Even though Turkey is a one of developing country, Turkey and Turkish people has a tremendous hospitality, charity and close family relations. If I had worked in other country, I would have missed this special warmth. Also, in my opinion, my country deserves to have sophisticated and well educated scientists / physicians like other developed countries.
What are your thoughts on why the Turkish healthcare sector has experienced such growth and the path you hope the industry will take in the future?

Healthcare parallel with the technology has made a remarkable improvement in the last years. In addition to this, Turkey had a great impact in terms of scientific studies and many institutions also had a higher citation numbers among their equals throughout the world. Therefore, adding the advanced technological developments on this scientific improvement, it is easily predicted that one will be able to observe remarkable improvement in the Turkish healthcare sector.
What are your experiences of medical tourism in your job and why do you think turkey could be an ideal location for medical tourists, i.e. cost, facilities, staff, location, etc.?

When we are focusing on my subspecialty; Stereotactic and functional neurosurgery/ movement disorder surgery, we can say that we have the highest technology and state of the art devices to perform these operations. Besides, geographic location of Turkey can be a reason of why most of the patients have visited Turkey instead of Europe or United States. Moreover, we have a number of developed hospitals with qualified service nowadays. In addition, Our institution has become one of the peer to peer; Center of Excellence sights of one of the leading neuromodulation Companies, because of a long term experience and positive surgical outcomes.
As you continue to enjoy a long and successful career, what ambitions remain for you within and away from your profession?

In general, there is no neuron in the brain which can be called ‘safe’. With advanced neuromodulation techniques, we can reach and stimulate any single point in brain. I wish I could treat patients who have memory deficiency (i.e. Alzheimer’s disease); who have severe obesity or addiction on something. Nowadays, treatment of these diseases ae under the clinical research and I strongly believe that sooner or later, either myself or next generation neurosurgeons can treat these debilitating diseases by an operation which can be performed under local anesthesia, in an almost sitting position and with an easy communication with the patient during surgery.
Besides my Professional career, I do enjoy tasting wines and I am a member of our wine society. I also have a professional level interest in reef aquariums. Following a successful career, I hope I would have a chance to taste a very fine wine while watching my reef tank.