Dr. Thompson Neurosurgeon


Is This The Greatest Neurosurgeon In The South?

With an average of 375 neurological operations per year, Dr. Willard Thompson is certainly the busiest.

Any concerned parent of a sick child would travel thousands of miles to seek specialized treatment, but with a renowned specialist right here in Savannah, they don’t have to. Dr. Willard Thompson, M.D. is the adult and pediatric neurological surgeon working to quell these parental concerns at the Neurological Institute of Savannah.

When Thompson was a junior at Clemson University in South Carolina, his uncle received a heart transplant. “I had no nurses and no doctors in my family, so that was the first time I had ever entered a hospital,” he recalls. That was 25 years ago, but his desire to be immersed in that scene has remained with him ever since.

He graduated with honors in chemical engineering and went on to receive his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. It was in his third year of medical school that Thompson realized his calling.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the human brain, and I’m good with my hands. I knew it would be a challenge, but I realized neurosurgery was for me,” Thompson says. After his residency, he completed a fellowship focusing in pediatric neurological surgery at the University of Texas’s Southwestern Medical Center – an extra six years of training. And challenging it was. In his last year of training, the program changed their requirement to 80 hours of work per week, something Thompson says actually lessened the workload.

“Every surgeon thinks they’re the best in the world, but I’m not that type of person. I’m more of a workhorse behind the scenes. I’m so busy taking care of patients, which is what I enjoy.”

“There’s a gap of about four or five years in my cultural memory because I had my head in the books so much,” he chuckles. “To this day I still say, ‘What’s the name of that movie that won an Academy Award? Oh, I was working that year.’” He concedes that the program was, and is, evolving for the better: “You should be able to get all your training and sleep, too.” Thompson says that during medical training it’s difficult to realize how different it will be when you’re the surgeon. “I’ve always had a laid-back personality and been a jokester, but when you’re the head guy, it becomes a lot more stressful. Just yesterday, I did an eight-hour surgery on a 10-month-old.” But working one-on-one with patients is exactly what Thompson prefers to do. “The more surgery you do and the more you take care of patients, the better you get at it,” he says. Perched on the edge of his desk, he radiates warmth and humility. “Every surgeon thinks they’re the best in the world, but I’m not that type of person. I’m more of a workhorse behind the scenes,” he says. “I never advertise. I don’t even write papers. I’m so busy taking care of patients, which is what I enjoy.”

His passion for his work is evident. Just 11 years into his practice at the Neurological Institute of Savannah, he’s already built a reputation for himself as the best in the area– and, arguably, in the nation. And for good reason: Dr. Thompson performs an average of 225 pediatric neurological surgeries per year, putting him in the ninetieth percentile in the country. Combine that with his 150 adult operations yearly, and you’ve got yourself an extremely competent specialist. In fact, Thompson is one of only 171 board certified pediatric neurosurgeons in the U.S. and Canada.

Chart showing common brain problems and causes.

Dr. Thompson is the only physician in the area with specialized pediatric neurological training, something he considers vital to the success of his practice. “Toddlers and babies have a whole different spectrum of injuries,” he explains. “If I wasn’t here, many of the cases I handle would need to be transferred out to another area.” And for pediatric trauma cases, the time saved by having someone in town locally can be a literal life saver.

“What Memorial [Health] is after is a service line in this community that’s very specialized,” he says. “We’re able to provide services for the immediate 35 counties and extend our service to the 60 counties beyond.” Thompson’s reputation has spread, as evidenced by his large clientele. He sees patients from Atlanta, North Carolina and beyond, and handles a large range of neurological issues. “From a parent’s standpoint, there’s nothing more reassuring than knowing that a child doesn’t have to travel five hours to be seen by a specialist,” says Dr. Thompson. We couldn’t agree more.

To read the full article, subscribe now or pick up the December/January issue of South Magazine.