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Spurrier Wins Debate by Downplaying Benefits of Robotics

Ryan Spurrier, MD, defeated Heidi Reich, MD, in the 11th annual Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition.

The explosive growth of robotics was at the heart of the 11th annual Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition.

This year, Heidi Reich, MD, faced off with Ryan Spurrier, MD, on the topic "Robotics — Medicine or Marketing? Progress or Promotion?"

The debate took place June 6 before a full house in Harvey Morse Auditorium. The event, which kicked off Cedars-Sinai's first Founders Day celebration, was sponsored by the Cedars-Sinai Department of Surgery and Department of Community Relations and Development. The debate is named in honor of Cedars-Sinai's revered former chief of Surgery, Leon Morgenstern, MD, who died in 2012.

Reich, a third-year surgical resident who earned her medical degree in 2010 from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, spoke eloquently in favor of robotics as an important medical advance. She came out swinging. Her portrayal of robotics as the natural progression of medical innovation for patient benefit was the theme of her argument.

But Spurrier, also a third-year surgical resident and a 2010 graduate of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, won the debate arguing that savvy marketing rather than medical data is driving the field's rapid expansion.

"Medical technology spreads long before investigation reveals whether the innovation is worthwhile," Spurrier said. "With robotic surgery, which has seen exponential growth in the treatment of prostate cancer, marketing has already moved into the breach."

Although Reich conceded that advertisers do their utmost to promote robotic surgery, she offered statistical data to bolster her position that robotics is an important advance that offers a path to greater surgical precision and excellence.

Reich cited technological breakthroughs such as the first electrocardiogram and the first pulmonary arterial catheterization, both of which were performed at Cedars-Sinai. Keeping with the spirit of all previous debates, she said, "Let's be thankful Dr. Spurrier wasn't there."

Much to the delight of the audience, a gentle vein of humor ran through the one-hour event. The theme music to the BBC series "Downton Abbey" greeted the audience as it entered the room. During the judging and audience keypad voting, the theme music to the game show "Jeopardy!" caused a ripple of laughter through the crowd.

In the end, Spurrier's calm, deliberate and convincing demeanor prevailed.

Leo Gordon, MD, acted as moderator of the event. Judges included Harry C. Sax, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Surgery; Sharon Isonaka, MD, vice president of Clinical Transformation; Karen S. Sibert, MD, associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology; Ilana Cass, MD, vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and Frank Litvack, MD, an emeritus cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai and a general partner in Pura Vida Investments. Each judge posed insightful questions to the participants.

After announcing the winner and awarding Spurrier the Morgenstern trophy, Gordon praised both participants for their scholarship and their commitment to the advancement of medicine. In addition to a cash prize, the competitors received copies of "Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery" by Richard Hollingham.

Next year's Morgenstern debate and Founders Day are scheduled for June 5, 2015.

Related story in this issue:

On Founders Day, Cedars-Sinai Looks to Its Past