Saludos Hispanos

S A L U D O S H I S P A N O S “I went from wanting to get out of East Los Angeles to really missing it. I missed my family but also, before I left, I had started to become accepted by some of the more popular kids in my social group. I remember thinking maybe I should have gotten a job on a construction site instead of going to Boston,” he says. “But in my junior and senior years, I had this realization that my life was going to take a different course,” he adds. “I accepted it and started to accept Boston and Harvard, and I stayed there for medical school because I grew to like it so much.” He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1997 and earned his medical degree in 2002. Acosta loved science as a kid and “wanted to have a career in something that was respected.” He imagined himself an engineer, a basic scientist or a doctor. Becoming an expert in complex spine surgery was an evolutionary process. “When I went to college, I explored engineering and science classes and ultimately decided that part of what made me happy was being able to physically interact with people,” he says. “I started to lean toward medicine because I thought it would be a good way to apply this interest in science and have human interaction. I shifted toward surgery because it provides immediate gratification – you can look at a scan of someone’s body and see the results of your work. Neurosurgery is sort of pushing the edge of what we know about the human condition, touching on the brain and spirituality. It is intellectually challenging and to some extent unpredictable because everyone’s brain and anatomy is different. Neurosurgery bridges science and art.” While in medical school, Acosta attended a presentation in which Keith L. Black, M.D., chairman of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery, described the brain tumor research taking place at the medical center. Acosta applied for and received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship, which enabled him to spend a year conducting research with Black’s group. “This was a perfect opportunity to come back home, to spend a year doing very interesting research, and to work for Keith Black. All the pieces fell into place,” Acosta says. After finishing medical school, he completed a general surgery internship and a neurosurgery residency at the University of California, San Francisco, before undertaking a fellowship at Northwestern University in complex and reconstructive spine surgery. Acosta, who thrives on “big, challenging cases where you’re in surgery for eight or 10 hours,” joined Cedars-Sinai in 2009. The following year, he was named one of the 50 best spine specialists in America by Becker’s Orthopedic and Spine Review. “I wanted to come back home to be close to my family and to help the community I grew up in. That made L.A. attractive,” he says. “Also, Cedars-Sinai is becoming a very significant leader as a model of health care, and a huge factor was getting to work with Keith Black again. This is sort of coming full circle, as a student and now as a colleague.” “I wanted to come back home to be close to my family and to help the community I grew up in. That made L.A. attractive,” he says.