Meet our Docs: Neurosurgeon Paul Matz, M.D., believes medicine is about serving others
By Kristy Bleizeffer Nov 7, 2019
Growing up, there was one lesson Paul Matz’s parents tried to impart on him and his three siblings: “We don’t care what you do, but try to provide some service to others.”
“I would like to think that is still the cornerstone of my practice,” said Dr. Matz, a board-certified neurosurgeon. “There are ever increasing pressures to think of medicine as a business, but it isn’t good for anyone when that happens. The best thing one can do as a physician is to make it a job of service.”
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Dr. Matz recently joined the brain and spine specialists at Wyoming Neurosurgery and Spine. He brings more than 20 years’ experience to Casper.
Previously, he was chief resident of neurosurgery at the University of California at San Francisco and assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University. He completed the spine fellowship program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and was an associate professor of neurosurgery at that institution. Most recently, he was a partner with the Brain and Spine Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri.
In the interview below, Dr. Matz talks about his training, his career and why Casper was the only place that could lure him from Missouri.
Where did you grow up, and what sparked your interest in medicine?
I was born in Chicago, and I grew up there. We lived a couple years in Texas because my dad was in the Airforce at that time. Then, we moved back to Chicago.
My father was a doctor, an otolaryngologist, so medicine was always in our family. Saturday was his day with us because there were four kids in our family, and my mom needed a day off. He would usually go do rounds, and he would bring us to the hospital. Culturally, it was always there.
I think I became more interested in medicine late in college. I was a chemistry major, and I was thinking about pursuing graduate school; but the PhD career path seemed very regimented. I finished college, and I took a job on Wall Street at Morgan Stanley for about a year. But, I discovered that you really have to have a finance passion to work on Wall Street, and finance wasn’t something to which I was willing to commit all my effort. At that point, I decided to pursue medical school.
Did you get to see your father interacting with his patients when you were younger?
Yes, sometimes he would take us on the floors during his rounds. He also made house calls. He cared for a lot of people who had neck cancers. At that time, the treatment was fairly aggressive surgery, so a lot of people had laryngectomies and then needed artificial voice boxes. That was certainly an easy way for me to learn about the perils of smoking.
My father was a very personable guy, and he always had a sense of both humor and, more importantly, humility. I think a lot of his patients really liked him for it. I suspect that was partly the nature of his personality, but I also think it was a learned behavior. In medicine, there are times when one can get rushed or become distracted, and that can rub the wrong way with the patient. Sometimes, one needs to step back and realize that both you and the patient are both connected as human beings, and both my father and mother were very good that way. My father really enjoyed his interactions with patients as he always saw them as people, and that is what struck me more than anything.
I think making care personable is something one has to relearn all the time in medicine. There are pressures on all sides: quality (wanting patients to do well medically), financial, administrative with third-party payors, etc. In trying to satisfy all of these demands, one sometimes loses sight of the personal relationship that good medicine needs. My father managed to navigate these medical demands without losing sight of the patient as a person, and I think that is the biggest lesson I took from seeing him interact with his patients.
Why did you specialize in neurosurgery?
There were some people in neurosurgery who always wanted to do it. Often for them, I suspect there was a prestige factor. I was kind of reductionist in my approach.
When deciding what kind of doctor one wants to be, one has to decide first if he or she wants to work with patients or not. I decided that I wanted to work with patients. Then one has to decide whether to work with adults or children; finally, that last decision is whether one wants to be a surgeon or not. I tended to like surgery, and I ended up liking the neurosciences a lot; so, in the end, that is what drove me to neurosurgery.
Tell us about your medical training.
After college at Yale, I worked in finance in New York and then stayed in New York and went to medical school at Columbia. I did residency at UC San Francisco, which was a really terrific neuroscience campus. I was fortunate to get to do some research, too, as a resident. I finished residency in 1998, and I took a job at Stanford for three years because my wife was still a general surgery resident at UC San Francisco.
When my wife finished, she was specializing in pediatric surgery. The University of Alabama had a really strong pediatric surgery fellowship, so we both moved down there. I took a faculty position, and we were there for eight years as faculty at UAB. I stayed in academic medicine for 11 years.
In 2009, my wife took a job at Washington University in St. Louis, so I joined a community neurosurgical group there. I enjoyed that type of practice, although there were some things I did miss in that setting such as trauma and more acute care cases. We were a pretty low-acuity hospital, so that is partly what drove the move out here. In St. Louis County where I practiced, the medical market was overserved. There is a point when a person has to look inward and say, “Do they really need me here? How am I serving the populace?”
Have you had much experience caring for a rural population, like in Wyoming?
In St. Louis, we would indirectly get transfers from very rural communities, and the hardest thing about that was just the follow-up – patients traveling great distances to see you.
In those situations, you basically have a couple decisions to make when caring for people in rural communities. One, is transferring a person a long distance really necessary? Two, do you have a room in the hospital to take patients from other communities? Sometimes, hospital beds in a referral center like Wyoming Medical Center can fill up and one has to utilize resources wisely. In a place like Casper, the on-call frequency is higher because there are only two neurosurgeons, and so one is on-call a lot more. However, the upside is having the satisfaction of knowing the community depends on you and that you can make a difference.
What is changing in neurosurgery? Is there anything that is new and exciting?
Image-guided surgery has really advanced the field in the last several years. Navigation [computer-assisted surgery systems with highly-detailed imaging] has really helped when we put in implants or when operating on tumors in the brain. I think this has improved care. Neuroimaging and neuroanesthesia keep advancing to allow us better diagnostics and safer surgery.
What are your impressions about Wyoming Medical Center and the medical community in Casper so far?
To me, it is impressive that the employees and leadership have created, really, a first-rate hospital in a relatively small city, population-wise. That is a necessity in such a geographically big State, whose population is so spread out.
One of the things that lured me here was the collegiality of the people who work at Wyoming Medical Center and the kindness of the people in Casper, and I think you need that collegiality and personal interaction to practice good medicine. In my experience, hospitals sometimes pay lip service to those kinds of personal relationships, but they end up communicating everything digitally or having an impersonal culture. That really becomes a problem. I think those personal relationships are what has allowed Wyoming Medical Center to practice at a high level. When an institution kind of loses its personality and warmth, it becomes much harder to function within it and to develop trust.
What do you think about joining the relatively young neurosurgery practice here, and helping to build it up?
It’s very exciting to come in at the base level and help to create something. It is very hard to practice in a silo, so it would be hard to be a solo neurosurgeon. To his credit, Dr. Warren has done it for several years, which is humbling to me as I am not certain that I could have had that type of endurance. It is helpful to work with another doctor because you don’t always have the answers yourself. There are a lot of shades of gray, and it is nice to have someone with whom to confer. Having the chance to join Dr. Warren and broaden the practice for the community is a fantastic opportunity. It is also wonderful to have a partner who sets the bar high. I grew up running cross country and track as a distance runner. One always improved when training with a person who was faster.
When I decided to interview for this job, I was in a position where I could have stayed in my current practice. I didn’t have to leave St. Louis, and my partners were surprised when I decided to do so. Casper was the only place I interviewed. It was the only place that could pull me away from the place I was in.
What did you like about it?
It is a beautiful place. There are a lot of outdoor activities like Nordic skiing and fly fishing that are readily accessible here, whereas I would have to drive a few hours to do them or could not do them when I lived in St. Louis. Everyone that I met here has been very kind. Almost immediately, I was impressed with the personality of the hospital. I think it is a very collegial place.
Dr. Matz is a board-certified neurosurgeon at Wyoming Neurosurgery and Spine in Casper. Before coming to Casper, he was chief resident of neurosurgery at the University of California at San Francisco and assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University. He completed the spine fellowship program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and was an associate professor of neurosurgery at that institution. Most recently, he was a partner with the Brain and Spine Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri.Call (307) 266-4000 for a referral or appointment.