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EP96 - Spine Surgery Trailblazer & Real Estate Entrepreneur with Dr. Anthony Yeung

Trisha’s guest this week is Anthony Yeung, MD. He is a retired spine surgeon who developed the Yeung Endoscopic Spine System. Dr. Yeung has lectured internationally and is currently writing a book regarding this procedure. His private practice, Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC), is now run by his son and other partners. He opened one of the first ambulatory surgery centers in Arizona.

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In this episode, we talk about…

[2:10] Dr. Yeung’s career path 

Dr. Yeung started out in chemical engineering, but he turned down a scholarship because he ultimately decided he didn’t want to do that. He went into liberal arts, and then decided he wanted to be a physician. 

When he came to the United States in 1949, he was raised by his mother and his father stayed behind in Hong Kong. From the age of 10 years old, Dr. Yeung worked in his uncle’s grocery store for 10 cents an hour. His mother told him that she was not going to speak to him in Chinese, because she wanted him to turn it around in one generation. That really had an impact on him, and he focused on what he thought he was good at: engineering, math, and physics.

He became bored with engineering and decided to do something different. Dr. Yeung decided to invest in property, and now he is selling the land that he held for 40 years.

[4:06] The decision to go to medical school

Dr. Yeung shared that every year there was one Asian person selected for his medical school, and he was the one for 1965. His interviewer had been a missionary in China, and he was fascinated by Dr. Yeung’s background.

[4:48] The decision to go into spine surgery

In the 1970s, Dr. Yeung was getting ready to go to Vietnam. He could get deferment if he was accepted into a residency program, but it was filled. His program director said he would make one for him, and he got in just as the Vietnam War ended. Dr. Yeung spent two years in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in the Philippines and traveled all over Asia. 

His fellowship was in general orthopedic surgery, but as luck would have it he was liked by the hospital administrator who marketed his skills. This angered the fellowship-trained spine surgeon, because the hospital was promoting Dr. Yeung. Dr. Yeung just wanted to do what he liked.

[7:03] Developing the Yeung Endoscopic Spine System

Dr. Yeung wanted to treat pain, rather than focus on academics and textbooks. By the time he finished, he had done 11,000 cases. He would identify the cause of the pain with the endoscope, and he would perform the surgery with the patient completely awake. It was meant to make spine surgery less painful. 

Pain could be coming from discs, the cervical spine, the thoracic spine, or the lumbar spine. Dr. Yeung specialized in the lumbar spine, and his son was more specialized in the cervical and thoracic spine. 

The system was experimental, but Dr. Yeung did studies on his own cases. After 10 years of reviewing his cases, he felt he could guarantee his results. Now everyone is talking about using endoscopic surgery to validate the cause of pain, and Dr. Yeung is writing a three-volume reference book on his system.

[11:18] Dr. Yeung’s private practice, Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC)

When Dr. Yeung’s son joined his private practice in 2001, they changed the name and he turned everything over to his son. It was known for performing endoscopic spine surgery, as Dr. Yeung did 100% of his surgeries this way. Other people know how to do this, but they maybe do 20%-30% of surgeries that way.

Dr. Yeung opened the first ambulatory spine surgery center in Arizona. So he was the first in spine, and probably the second in the country, to have a solely owned ambulatory surgery center that had no partners. He bought a building and redeveloped it with a partner, and the partner wanted to run the show. Dr. Yeung bought him out and probably paid 60 cents on the dollar, and still considers it the best move he ever made.

[17:21] Choosing a location for his private practice

Dr. Yeung chose his location based on knowing there would be highways that would allow access from the East Valley, the North Valley, and the Northwest Valley. He found a building that would put him in a central location, bought it from the bank, and then the bank went under. He paid $1.3 million but ended up getting it for $600,000.

[18:46] Growing the private practice to several locations

Dr. Yeung’s son provided input on growing the practice to other locations, because he brought in other people. One of the best spine surgeons in Arizona asked to join them, and then they recruited a few other partners. They have a highly trained specialty group and they get along very well with each other.

[20:14] What Dr. Yeung would be doing if he was not a physician

When he was in high school, they did a test that said he could be a social worker or a pilot. He thinks he would like being a pilot, but he likes being a spine surgeon better. He has advised his own children that he doesn’t care what they do, but they should be the best at it and enjoy it – then it doesn’t feel like work.

[23:30] What Dr. Yeung listens to for news, information, or inspiration

Dr. Yeung listens to Fox, and he tries to balance his information by listening to other channels such as CNN, MSNBC, CBS, BBC, and Al-Jazeera.

[25:04] What Dr. Yeung does for self-care

He used to be a runner, but he has developed polyneuropathy from complications of Type II Diabetes. Dr. Yeung is now trying electrical current technology from Germany to stimulate the growth of blood vessels, and he has noticed some improvement in the short amount of time he has used it so far.

[26:43] Whether the desire to heal is innate or taught through medical training

Dr. Yeung thinks people learn it from influential people in their lives. He had always admired doctors. It wasn’t about making money, but it turned out that working hard certainly led to financial success.

Links to resources:

Anthony T. Yeung, MD
Desert Institute for Spine Care

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