Nicole Spencer, DO, is a surgeon with Columbia Surgical Associates, an affiliate of University of Missouri Health Care. She combines her extensive knowledge of the stomach and small intestine with the latest robotic surgery techniques to help her patients control their weight.
But most of all, she delivers hope.
“Bariatric surgery is really hitting the reset button," she said. "It gives people a chance to start over with a healthy lifestyle."
Spencer specializes in minimally invasive surgery – sometimes called laparoscopic or robotic surgery. Instead of employing classical open surgery techniques, she makes a small incision in her patients and uses a long fiber optic cable system – called a laparoscope – to see the area she is operating on.
“Laparoscopic surgery reduces patients’ pain and the length of their hospital stay,” Spencer said. “It also speeds recovery.”
Spencer's goal is to remove as many burdens as possible for her patients. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Many of them qualify for bariatric surgery, but only a portion will have the procedure.
"A person who turns to bariatric surgery is not suffering from insufficient willpower," Spencer said. “If they’ve come this far, they’ve often tried everything else out there.”
Spencer’s patients range in age from young adults to senior citizens. They frequently have other health issues as well, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or failing joints.
Spencer said her patients might be yo-yo dieters who lose weight only to see it creep back later. They also might have experienced trauma that has affected their metabolism.
“They’ve tried diets, exercise and pills,” Spencer said. “Bariatric surgery is their last resort.”
Spencer and her team invest time in understanding their patients and preparing them for their new lives after surgery. Much of that education involves clearing up misconceptions of what bariatric surgery will do. “It’s not a cure-all,” Spencer said. “It’s a tool to help, but the patient has to be dedicated to a new lifestyle.”
Spencer also makes sure her patients know that, while bariatric surgery has powerful benefits for most people, it won’t make you skinny and it's not an instant fix. “From the time a patient first attends one of our seminars in person or online, it can be up to six months before their surgery,” she said. “Then they have another six months to a year of intense follow-up — monthly or even weekly check-ins to see if they’re on track with their diet and exercise.”
Even though the bariatric process is long and thorough, Spencer is dedicated to giving her patients a fresh start that can last a lifetime.
“I really enjoy making a lifelong impact,” she said.