January 2011

Spinal...Tap, Tap, Tap - Never Underestimate The Power Of Friendship

Author: David Tobias

Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry are about to become known as a world class location for spine-related healthcare, and it’s mostly because two young surgeons were great friends in college, have remained great friends and colleagues over the last 10 years and want to turn that friendship into a medical partnership.

Dr. K. Craig Boatright, a Harvard University graduate, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard University Medical School graduate and native of South Georgia and Dr. Jeffrey Reuben, originally from Chicago, a summa cum laude graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, a medical school graduate of Johns Hopkins who did his orthopedic residency at the University of Chicago, met each other at Emory University in Atlanta and hit it off.

Both are board certified spinal surgeons. Boatright graduated magna cum laude from Emory, both have a list of accomplishments in post-graduate work as long as your arm, both have had successful spinal care specialty practices and both have kept in close touch over the last decade, tracking each other’s parallel careers—Boatright in Asheville, N.C. and Reuben in Beaufort, S.C.

That entire time, they’ve talked and traded stories about their families and work and have kept a vision alive of someday building a world class spinal healthcare practice together. Starting in January on Hilton Head Island, that someday becomes reality.

Everything is about timing, of course, and the timing of Mark O’Neil’s arrival at Hilton Head Hospital as president and CEO, coinciding with hiring Reuben as a spinal surgeon on staff about a year ago, has allowed this dream of Boatright’s and Reuben’s to become better defined and much more clearly reachable.

The best parts of Reuben’s established practice in Beaufort were easily assimilated into the Hilton Head Island environment over the last year, and taking it one step further—creating a spinal center—simply made sense to O’Neil, whose own vision has everything to do with matching a world class tourism and travel destination to a world class hospital, recognized regionally and nationally.

The Hilton Head Hospital has established an impeccable reputation, especially for cardiac care, breast cancer and general surgery, and is gaining wide recognition for uncommon quality overall among hospitals with under 100 beds (the Hilton Head Hospital has 93 beds).

“We’re better than most and heading for great,” said O’Neil.


Dr. K. Craig Boatright, a Harvard University graduate, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard University Medical School graduate and native of South Georgia.

What will initially be known as the Spine Center of Hilton Head Hospital—and may eventually become the Spine Institute of the Carolinas if the long-range vision becomes long-range reality—opens with its own wing, nursing staff, support staff, operating room, physical therapy facilities and outreach program.

The center staff, including Boatright and Reuben, will be able to conduct full risk assessments, diagnose infections, deformities and degenerative changes and conduct surgery. Focus will be on adult diseases and deteriorating conditions of the neck and spine, but the center will also offer diagnosis and consultation on scoliosis of the spine for young people.

The center will be competitive with comparable facilities in major cities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia, and both Reuben and Boatright expect that services here will actually be more comprehensive and personal.

“How often do you get to see the attending physician in those large hospitals, which in many cases are teaching hospitals?” asked Boatright. “The answer is not very often. Most likely you’re going to be seen by a resident, an internist, or a general practice doctor on rounds. Here you’re going to see us.”

O’Neil expects that the new spine center will partner seamlessly with other Hilton Head hospital capabilities, incorporating x-ray, CT, MRI, pre-anesthesia, post-operative services and a great intensive care unit into the overall service.

“This is not something we’ve taken off the shelf,” said O’Neil. “We’ve thought things through, anticipating every need.”

That was part of what particularly impressed Boatright.

“Hilton Head Hospital has stepped to the plate,” he said. “The hospital administration, and especially Mark O’Neil, has been amazing. Typically you won’t find doctors saying great things about administrators, but Mark has made it happen. He’s not your usual bureaucrat; he knows the value of delivering first rate care in a friendly environment.”


Dr. Jeffrey Reuben, originally from Chicago, a summa cum laude graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, a medical school graduate of Johns Hopkins who did his orthopedic residency at the University of Chicago.

The Hilton Head Island environment in general was one of the reasons a spine center makes so much sense for the Hilton Head Hospital.

“It’s no secret that successful, active people from all over have chosen to move to or retire here,” said Reuben, who knows the region from his time in Beaufort and more recently Hilton Head. “These people want to remain active.

“What we’re seeing most often are degenerative conditions,” he said. “It’s the natural process of backs wearing out. In most places, it’s a problem of Americans not getting enough exercise and not being active enough in general. That’s not what we see here most typically—people here play golf and tennis; they bike, kayak, fish and boat”

“At first we may see them to treat the typical aches and pains that come with over-exertion,” said Boatright. “They see us so they can get an adjustment and keep going. That could be something as simple as an anti-inflammatory to quiet down the nerves; maybe it takes steroid injections or nothing more invasive than physical therapy. But people here are tenacious. They want to keep playing pickle ball, golf and tennis into their 70s—even their 80s. That’s why most treatment is to care for some people, fix some people or just attend to their maintenance.”

“The one thing that has impressed me most of all is that these guys are determined to let it be known that they’re here to work,” said O’Neil. “I’ve heard it from them time and time again, and it’s what I like to hear.

“They have the skills be able to return patients to a certain level of activity,” O’Neil continued. “Of course there have to be reasonable expectations. The goal is to return them to optimal for their personal circumstances. They’re likely not coming in hurting and going out as Michael Jordan.”

A visit to spine specialists means you’re seeing specialists with four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of orthopedic specialty work and one year of spine fellowship, plus specific spine experience examining and treating ailments from skull to tailbone, neck to thoracic region, to the lumbar.

What appears to be a captive audience is one answer to the question of “why Hilton Head?”, but both doctors and O’Neil agree that the world class parallels are also a driving force: world class destination/world class hospital, providing the best for many who accept no less.

Boatright also said Hilton Head was a natural simply because it’s known.

“Everyone knows Hilton Head. They just don’t know it as a great place for health care,” he said. “But that’s coming.”

  1. Love it!


    — Jill R    Jan 23, 09:59 am   

  2. LOVE IT TOO!
    MOM & DAD


    — DR. PAUL & JONI REUBEN    Jan 24, 11:48 am   

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