11-Year-Old National Spelling Bee Champ Becomes Neurosurgeon for a Day


Nihar Janga, the youngest winner ever of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, doesn’t just know how to flawlessly spell the word “neurosurgeon,” he dreams of becoming one someday. On Friday, August 26th, the tween had the unique opportunity to experience a day in the life of a brain surgeon first-hand by shadowing David Langer, MD, the esteemed chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

At just 11 years old, Nihar, who was crowned spelling co-champion in May, is the youngest winner in the Bee’s 88-year history. The fifth grader from Austin, Texas was a crowd favorite who charmed the audience and many on social media with his slight voice and knowledge of obscure words.

Nihar also impressed Dr. Langer, who was thrilled when he found out that the youngster aspired to become a neurosurgeon and cure brain disorders. “I want to become a neurosurgeon because you actually get to see the brain and interact with it – it’s my dream job,” declared Nihar.

Dr. Langer offered Nihar a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Lenox Hill Hospital’s busy neurosurgery department and learn about the daily tasks of a neurosurgeon. The trip – paid for entirely by Lenox Hill Hospital for Nihar, his sister and his parents – was intended to recognize and encourage his decision to go into neurosurgery at such a young age.

“Recognition is the seed of the decision and I want to encourage Nihar to become a great neurosurgeon,” said Dr. Langer.  “It is vital to encourage our nation’s youth to pursue careers in medicine, especially given the current challenges in the healthcare industry.”

During his visit, Nihar received a private tour of the neurosurgery department, viewed MRI scans of the brain, examined pathology slides of tumor cells, explored the diagnostic imaging equipment in a catheterization laboratory, and was introduced to several other neurosurgeons from Lenox Hill, including Rafael A. Ortiz, MD, chief of neuro-endovascular surgery and interventional neuro-radiology.

In addition, Dr. Langer presented Nihar with a personalized set of surgical scrubs and a lab coat, both displaying the tween’s first and last name, as well as the words “Future Neurosurgeon,” on the front. The surgeon also gave Nihar a 3-D printed model of a skull with arteries, as well as Rhoton’s Cranial Anatomy and Surgical Approaches, which according to Dr. Langer is “a book every neurosurgeon should read.”

Joining Dr. Langer and Nihar were two physicians, who are former Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants: Jonathan Knisely, MD, a radiation oncologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1971 and Michael Schulder, MD, vice chairman of neurosurgery at Northwell Health, who was a finalist in 1970.

“Coming here and watching Dr. Langer and all these other neurosurgeons, I think this will definitely inspire Nihar,” stated Nihar’s father, Narayana Janga. “And hopefully we can get him started on the right track.”

About Lenox Hill Neurosurgery

With internationally known neurosurgeons, state-of-the-art procedures and techniques, and innovative research, Lenox Hill Neurosurgery is on the forefront of care for the brain, spine and nervous system.

About Lenox Hill Hospital

Lenox Hill Hospital, a member of Northwell Health, is a 652-bed, fully accredited, acute care hospital located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a national reputation for outstanding patient care and innovative medical and surgical treatments. US News & World Report has ranked the hospital among the nation’s top 50 in Cardiology and Heart Surgery and among the top 10 hospitals in the state of New York with a total of 11 “high performing” designations for its clinical performance in Cancer, Diabetes & Endocrinology, Ear, Nose & Throat, Gastroenterology & GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Gynecology, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology and Urology. For more information, go to www.lenoxhillhospital.org