Volker K.H. Sonntag

2002, Philadelphia

Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD “Discovery of the Spine Specialist: Instrumentation for the Cervical Spine”, “Leading the Future of Spine Surgery”, “The Neurosurgeon as Mentor and Student”, PC26 “Operative Colloquium: Masters of Neurological Surgery” and M01 “Resident and Honored Guest Luncheon” (Please see scientific program for dates and times.)

Volker K. H. Sonntag, M.D., was born November 23, 1944, in Graudenz, Germany to Heinz Sonntag and Gisela (née) Albrecht. His family immigrated to America in 1957 and settled in Arizona where he was amazed to discover that oranges grew on trees and subsequently continued his education. He attended Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona from 1963 to 1967, receiving a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Chemistry, summa cum laude. From 1967 to 1971 he attended the University of Arizona School of Medicine. He served as President of his graduating class and completed his internship there in 1972. In 1972 Dr. Sonntag moved to Tufts New England Medical Center Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts where he trained as one of the first residents under Bennett M. Stein, M.D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery. He completed his residency in 1977.

Dr. Sonntag then practiced in Youngstown, Ohio for a year before moving to Phoenix,
Arizona to practice neurosurgery in 1978. In 1983 he joined the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) where he has since remained. At the BNI, Dr. Sonntag has served as Vice-Chairman of the Division of Neurological Surgery and as Chairman of the Spine Section since 1984, as Director of the Spine Fellowship Program since 1988, and as Director of the Residency Program since 1995. In 2000 he assumed the endowed Alumni Chair for Spine Research at the BNI. In 1985 he was appointed Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. In 1989 he was promoted to Professor of Clinical Surgery.

Dr. Sonntag has received many awards for his contributions to teaching and mentoring of young neurosurgeons, an aspect of his career to which he has a strong personal commitment. At the BNI, he has received the Teacher of the Year Award seven times. In 2000 he was chosen as Mentor of the Millenium by his residents. He was also chosen as the Honored Guest for Lifetime Leadership and Mentoring to Young Neurosurgeons by the American Association of Neurological SurgeonsYoung Neurosurgeons Committee. The Volker K. H. Sonntag Fund for research was established by the North American Spine Society in 2001 as its first named fund. In 1999 the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves established the Volker Sonntag Fellowship Award to encourage clinical research.

Dr. Sonntag has also received many other honors for his community service, research, and outstanding achievements. In 1981 he was elected as an honorary alumnus of Alpha Omega Alpha for his outstanding accomplishments for the Class of 1971. In 1982 he was elected as a Fellow to the American College of Surgeons. In 1987 he received the University of Arizona College of Medicine Alumni Medal (Outstanding Graduate for the last 20 years). He was a member of the Think First National Board between 1994 and 1998, testifying to his strong commitment to the prevention of spinal cord injuries. In 1999 he received the Meritorious Service Award from the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves.

Through laboratory and clinical research, Dr. Sonntag has devoted his career to improving our understanding of spinal disorders, especially cervical and upper cervical spine disorders. His academic output has been prolific. He has written more than 60 chapters for important neurosurgical texts and more than 200 articles for refereed and nonrefereed journals. He is the co-editor of four major textbooks: Principles of Spinal Surgery, Essentials of the Spine, Surgical Treatment of Discogenic Diseases of the Spine, and Surgery of the Craniovertebral Junction. Currently, he is serving as a Section Editor of the spine volume for the newest edition of Youman’s Neurological Surgery, which is still in press. That his surgical and scientific expertise is highly esteemed by his peers is further evidenced by the 11 editorial boards on which he is currently serving, including journals such as Neurosurgery (Principal Reviewer), Journal of Neurosurgery, Acta Neurochirurgica, and Spine. He is also highly sought as a speaker and has given more than 600 presentations at institutions, professional meetings, and universities around the world. He has been invited as a Visiting Professor to more than 40 institutions.

Despite his academic, teaching, and clinical obligations, Dr. Sonntag has been an active member and leader in many professional neurosurgical and spine societies throughout his career, holding more than 20 professional memberships. He has been a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons since 1980, serving on about a dozen committees over the years. Notably, he was a member of the Executive Committee from 1985 to 1993. Since 1982 he has been a member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and presently is serving as this organization’s Vice President. In 1992-1993, Dr. Sonntag served as the Chairman for the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves. He also has served as the President of the North American Spine Society (2000-2001) and of the Rocky Mountain Neurosurgical Society (1991-1992). He is a member of the Neurosurgical Society of America and was elected to the Society of Neurological Surgeons in 1991, serving as the Chair of the Membership Committee in 1993-1994. In 1995 he was elected to the Academy of Neurological Surgeons. In 1998 he became a Director of the American Board of Neurological Surgeons and is currently Chair of the Recertification Committee.

Above all Dr. Sonntag is devoted to his family. He has been married to his wife, Lynne, a pediatric nurse practitioner, since 1974. They have three children, Ailssa who graduated from the University of California—Los Angeles in 2000 with a degree in communications (summa cum laude); Christopher who is in his second year at Arizona State University, and Stephen who is in the fifth grade. He is an accomplished medical philatelist and avid aficionado of vintage comedic cinema. In his spare time, Dr. Sonntag also enjoys coaching soccer (for the 13th straight year) and jogging.