No one who knew Dr. Nik Teppara when he was growing up is surprised he became a surgeon.
The physician, who joined Novant Health Salem Surgical Associates - Kernersville in early September, began working as an operating room (OR) tech at a hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, when he was just 17. He progressed to nurse tech and then to anesthesia tech as he worked during summer and winter breaks throughout college.
“I always wanted to go into medicine,” he said. “From the time I dissected frogs in high school biology, I wanted to be a surgeon. Everyone thought I would go into orthopedics, given that I played sports and many of them are ex-athletes. But in med school, general surgery felt like it transformed lives. This was my calling.”
He hasn’t forgotten his humble start in health care. Mopping floors was part of his job as a teenager and young man. “To this day, I will still mop my own OR floors sometimes” when it will help keep things moving, he said.
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Another aspect of his practice: minimally invasive procedures that involve far smaller incisions than traditional surgery. The benefits to patients are substantial, including less pain, faster recovery and return to work, less dependence on opioids and decreased chance of re-operation, hernia recurrence and hematoma.
“Surgical procedures have gone through a metamorphosis from being maximally invasive to minimally invasive,” he said. “Our mantra has changed. Now, rather than have maximal exposure with large incisions, we actually want to avoid cutting people open. As an early robotic adopter, I realized the benefits of robotics and minimally invasive surgery. As a result, I started doing hernia repairs robotically 10 years ago.
"I was trying to develop techniques and standardizing procedures, when most in the general surgery world were still considering whether to even use the technology. I eventually became a proctor for a robotic platform manufacturer, teaching other surgeons these techniques, running courses and signing off on whether they can safely operate with the robot on their own or deciding they need additional training.” To date, he’s performed close to 1,400 procedures robotically, making him one of the top robotically-assisted surgeon in the Triad and the state.
He prefers minimally invasive /robotic-assisted surgery because it’s often better for the patients. “There’s no question patients recover faster, return to their daily activities and work quicker, have fewer postoperative complications compared to open surgery and have less scarring and are overall happier with robotic minimally invasive surgery,” he said.
That said, he doesn’t always latch on to the latest technology or gadgetry. “Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better,” Teppara said. “As surgeons, we have to be unbiased and look at new technology in the most objective manner. Only then can we truly make an informed decision on whether it can benefit our patients.”
Teppara’s skill – which translates to low complication rates and subsequently low patient re-admission rates – isn’t the only reason his schedule stays packed. His philosophy of treating each patient as if they were his own mother is something patients love about him. He excels at the hand-holding and nerve-calming that often goes with the territory.
That nurturing side often comes into play when he’s doing revision surgery – something he loves. The procedures, which involve modifying a previous procedure, are more demanding and complex. “I like a challenge, and as a result, those surgeries are particularly rewarding,” he said. Because he’s known for doing so many robotic procedures, other surgeons often refer their patients to him – especially for revisions.
‘Thankful to be Americans’
His parents were hard-working Indian immigrants. Although they were educated professionals – his dad was a mechanical engineer, and his mom was an accountant – they had a hard time establishing themselves, having moved to Germany, Denmark, Canada and finally the U.S., determined to live “the American dream.” The family lived in low-income housing in Canada during Teppara’s early childhood. From his parents, he learned their hustle and hard work habits, which remain at his core.
The Toronto native ultimately moved with his parents and brother to South Carolina, where the family became naturalized U.S. citizens. Teppara loves America with the zeal many immigrants feel for “the land of opportunity.”
During residency, he joined the Air Force Reserves to become a flight surgeon. The military taught him about “hierarchy, discipline, the importance of helping your fellow comrades and giving back.” Now that his three children are a little older – 13, 11 and 8 – he’s considering serving again.
Because all three are involved in travel sports, Teppara’s free time is often spent on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s a role he relishes, having been involved with sports his whole life. He played five sports in high school and attended college on a tennis scholarship.
His hobbies, like his work, require him to be good with his hands. He’s a musician who plays drums in a cover band, Slightly Emotional, with some friends in his neighborhood. They mostly play hits from the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s in and around High Point. He’s also a painter who’s been known to take commissions from friends. Acrylics are his medium of choice, and he doesn’t have a favorite subject matter. He’ll paint – in his realistic style – whatever anyone asks for.
After joining Novant Health, his schedule is filling up quickly, but he is available to support and care for patients in the community who need his expertise. “I’m excited to join the Novant Health team,” he said. “My hope is to continue to add to this excellence in surgical care at Novant Health Salem Surgical Associates and Weight Loss- Winston Salem, and I only see us gaining momentum in becoming one of the elite surgical practices in the state.”