Trendsetter to Know: Dr. Peter McCunniff, Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at The Pain Center of Arizona

Name: PeterMcCunniff

Twitter: @thepaincenter

Facebook: @ThePainCenter

Instagram: @thepaincenteraz


Age: 36

Title: Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Married/Single: Single

Kids: Son

City you live in: Phoenix

A typical day in my life includes… Getting up between 6-7, have breakfast with my son Cash before I go off to work, then head to the clinic or OR, depending on what I have that day. When I’m in clinic, I take my lunch time and go do a quick workout. It’s a productive way to take a mental break and come back to the clinic refreshed. Most days are usually wrapped up by 4 or 5 during the week and I spend the evenings doing “Dad stuff” or finishing up documentation and orders for the day and planning for the surgical cases for the week.   

I was born… Waterloo, Iowa

My favorite thing about Arizona… Year-round sun is a huge advantage compared to the Midwest. Also, having a large part of my family nearby makes this really feel like home.

I’m listening to… live concerts or shows when I am in the OR and usually podcasts while I am traveling or in the car. I feel like I usually get a daily dose of “Bluey” for background noise at home, courtesy of my little one.

My family…  2 younger sisters. 31 and 34. We are all very close. 

If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be…  I am a huge basketball fan so it would be “Pistol” Pete Maravich – I grew up playing basketball and my dad gave me these old VHS tapes that Pistol Pete made for younger players. They were full of dribbling and shooting drills that he would walk you through to practice on your own. Sadly, he unexpectedly passed away at a young age due to an unrecognized heart condition in 1988 so I was devastated when I learned one of my idols wasn’t around anymore. He’s still the all-time leader in NCAA points in the era without the three-point shot and far fewer games per season than they play now. He was so far ahead of his time and there really are not many interviews with him floating around the internet.

One thing I cannot live without… Sleep

When I was younger, I wanted to be… Basketball player

I’m inspired by… my parents. They did an amazing job at raising us and sacrificed a lot for myself and my sisters. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the work ethic they instilled in us, and the constant support all along the way.

The one person who motivates me is… My son, Cash. 

If I could change anything in the world, it would be… Physicians would still have the majority of administrative leadership roles within our healthcare systems and that the general population understood that a very, very small amount of healthcare costs are due to physician or providers salaries/fees. Some of my residency colleagues published a study that showed there is no correlation between hospital CEO’s salary/bonuses and the actual performance of their hospitals. The days are long gone where you come out of medical school/residency and you pay your loans off in 1-5 years. Physician’s are not making enough money in residency to even pay off their interest to keep it from exponentially growing for those 3-7 years. This sets young doctors up for 30 years of work just to pay off that debt. Most doctors sacrifice a lot in order to help their patients but the systems in place are catered to documentation for billing. That means almost 50% of your doctor’s day is spent clicking boxes on a computer for billing purposes instead of spending more time with our patients or seeing more patients in that same time. It’s easy to get bogged down in all of that and not have time to stick up for yourself and your time with loved ones. We definitely need to change some things or the best and brightest that we want leading innovation in the next generation of healthcare will go into other fields that do not come with the years of training, prolonged debt, and putting off other personal interests or starting a family until much later in life.

The perfect day would be… Although I love what I do, the perfect day would be somewhere camping without my cellphone. We get bogged down and its tough to find those days disconnected from life. I play a significant role in my patients care so I always have to be around my phone, so it’s tough to truly disconnect and not be as available.

My first job was… Detasseling. In Iowa, this is a form of selective pollination control done in the corn fields but basically just pick the tops off of corn by hand. I was getting up at 3am and doing 12 hr days thinking I was making it big at the time.  

My favorite escape… Anytime I can sneak away and take a nap. 

My life… is hectic but fulfilling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m currently working on… Working with different companies to improve the implants and tools that we use in spine procedures. Also adding robotic navigation to some of the larger operations I do in order to help speed up the procedure and improve safety at the same time.

Always…  Treat the janitor like the CEO. Treat everyone with respect and take genuine interest in the people’s lives around you. This makes your time at work specifically so much more enjoyable. 

Never… turn down an opportunity to spend time with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Favorite Quote… “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may never be able to tell the difference” – Mark Twain. I think this is something many people can relate to in social media these days, I think we could be so much more productive if we put that time and energy elsewhere. 

Biggest Dream… That we can continue to build the practice that we have at The Pain Center. We are one of the only comprehensive spine care centers that is set up in this specific model to facilitate the needs of all patients at different levels of care under one roof.  

My Pet Peeve(s)… I really hate when I hear stories from patients about another surgeon that seemed to try to scare patients into having surgery. For the vast majority of things that I treat, patients always have options. As long as you’re an adult, you get to make the decision that you think is best for you, even in very dire circumstances. I still carry the wise words of one of my mentors, “We OFFER surgery to patients. I do not tell any patient that they NEED to have a surgery.” There is no option that comes without certain risks and benefits so it’s my job to inform patient’s so that they can make the best decision for their own symptoms and situation.

Bio-on yourself/company: Dr. Peter T. McCunniff is an Orthopedic Spine surgeon in Glendale, Arizona and is the newest and only fellowship trained Spine surgeon at The Pain Center of Arizona. He received his medical degree from University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. He completed his residency at Case Western / University Hospitals in Cleveland, OH. He completed an additional year of fellowship training in Spinal Surgery Scottsdale, AZ. His fellowship focus was on minimally invasive spine surgery techniques for all areas of the spine and was mentored by both Orthopedic and Neurosurgical spine surgeons. He has now been in practice 3-4 years here in the Valley.

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