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Q&A with Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Orthopedic Surgery Brenton Pennicooke, MD

Brenton Pennicooke, MD, hiking in Sedona, AZ, with his baby Amelia.
Brenton Pennicooke, MD, hiking in Sedona, AZ, with his baby Amelia.

Brenton Pennicooke, MD, joined Washington University last year after completing a post-residency fellowship in complex spinal reconstruction and minimally invasive spine surgery under the guidance of both neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons.  He is the first Black faculty member in the Washington University Department of Neurosurgery.

Assistant Professor Brenton Pennicooke, MD

His diverse training gives him a unique insight into treating a wide range of spinal diseases from significant spinal deformity/malalignment to herniated discs. 

Dr. Pennicooke is an expert in utilizing artificial intelligence, advanced machine learning, and causal inference to analyze patient-outcome data. His research endeavors to extensively understand the nuances of spinal disease, develop personalized patient treatment regimens, and build novel clinical support tools. 

Dr. Pennicooke spent a few moments from his busy schedule to tell us a little bit about himself and his family.

Q. Why did you choose to come to Washington University?

Michela and Brenton Pennicooke, MD, in San Francisco.
Michela and Brenton Pennicooke, MD, in San Francisco.

A. I was looking for an opportunity that would provide the greatest long-term growth. Building a practice as a first year attending in academics is a challenge. It was really important to consider what resources and support would be available. WashU has always been at the forefront of spine surgery which made it the place I needed to be.

Q. What are you most proud of in your career so far?

A. Learning an entirely new skill set of programming in ML (machine learning) and AI (artificial intelligence) on my own and incorporating it into my research. Currently, I’m still trying to develop my team of collaborators and researchers to acquire and analyze patient-outcome data and we are making great strides. I’m proud of developing and honing this research interest and pushing through the challenges that I’ve faced.

Q. What are you most excited about when you come to work every day? 

Brenton Pennicooke, MD, taking baby Amelia to visit Martha's Vineyard.
Dr. Pennicooke taking baby Amelia to visit Martha’s Vineyard.

A. I’m most excited to see the patients who we have been able to help and get them back to living their best lives. I really try to embrace those small wins.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time, however limited it might be?

A. Spending time with my daughter means a lot to me. She’s growing so fast and learning so quickly. We recently started taking Amelia on hikes, and she’s been loving the outdoors.

Q. Tell us about your family (and perhaps a bit about moving and having a baby during COVID)? 

A. Starting a family in COVID was particularly difficult for my wife, but she made it a priority to create some normalcy. We had a lot of movie nights and home cooked meals. We hiked as much as we could, even at 9-months pregnant she loved walking the hills of San Francisco. After the arrival of Amelia we quickly made our move back East to be with family. My wife grew up in New England, so we spent the summer taking Amelia to different beaches along the Connecticut coast line.

Michela and Brenton Pennicooke, MD, at Tod's Point, Greenwich, CT.
The Pennicookes at Tod’s Point, Greenwich, CT.

Q. Any surprises about coming to St. Louis from New York?

A. My wife and I loved visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and we were so excited to have access to the St Louis Art Museum. Forest Park has also been a great substitute to Central Park!