Dr. Longaker was interviewed in October 2014 by
Juliet Emamaullee, a chief resident in general surgery
at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, and the Resident and
Associate Society representative to the ACS Surgical
Thank you so much for participating in our inter-
view series. Did you always know that you wanted
to become a physician?
No, not at all. I come from Detroit, MI, and my father
was a baseball player. No one in my family had been
to college; however, I had the opportunity to attend
Michigan State University and play basketball. I was on
the team with Magic Johnson and we won a national
championship in 1979. While I was in college, one of the
faculty in radiology at Michigan State suggested that
I consider pursuing a career in medicine, and that is
how it all started. I am the first physician in my family.
How did you develop an interest in surgery?
When I was at Harvard for medical school, I became
particularly interested in gross anatomy early on,
which naturally led me to surgery. I initially thought
about orthopaedic surgery, with my sports background, but it did not excite me as much as some of
the procedures I saw being done in general surgery.
I liked the variety of what I saw in cardiac surgery,
transplantation, gastrointestinal surgery, and so on.
The combination of my interest in anatomy and the
range of what you could do and make an acute difference is what drew me to general surgery.
When you entered surgical residency, did you
have a particular interest in pediatric surgery, or
were you undecided?
It is ironic that my mentor, Dr. Michael Harrison,
had lived in the same exact room as me in Vanderbilt
Hall at Harvard around 15 years prior. I kept hearing
about UCSF, but being from the Midwest, I did not
know anything about it. I went to interview there for
residency and the chair of surgery was Paul Ebert,
MD, FACS. He had played basketball and baseball at
Ohio State, so we immediately hit it off. A pediatric
surgeon, who turned out to be Dr. Harrison, also
interviewed me. After the interview, I really wanted
to be at UCSF and was fortunate to match there.
As a resident, I planned to go straight through
my clinical training, [but] after three years we had
a leadership transition. Dr. Ebert became Executive
Director of the ACS, and Haile T. Debas, MD, FACS,
became our new chair of surgery. Dr. Debas strongly
suggested that I spend a year in the lab. I was reluc-
tant to take time off for research, but I trusted his
opinion, and was eventually assigned to Dr. Harri-
son’s lab. He asked me to investigate how fetuses heal
wounds. My response was, “Why? You are the only
person in the world thinking about healing fetuses.”
He said, “Well, I think there may be a difference in
the response to inflammation.” The rest is history,
and he truly gave me the handoff of a lifetime. My
one year in the lab became four, and working out the
biology of how a fetus will not heal a wound with a
scar until the third trimester, despite having the same
genetic imprint, fascinated me.
Dr. Harrison advised me that pediatric craniofacial surgery might be a good fit for my clinical and
research interests. After nine years at UCSF—five
clinical and four in the lab—I spent two years at N YU
for plastic surgery training and a 12th year of training
at UCLA in craniofacial surgery. My lab time completely rerouted my entire career and life.
Were you able to stay active in research as you
progressed through your clinical training?
Yes. Dr. Debas was incredibly supportive. After my
fourth year in the lab, he advised me to either come
back to complete my clinical training or stay on for
another year and complete a graduate degree, so I
could be hired as an assistant professor in research. I
chose to complete my clinical training. Dr. Harrison
APR 2015 BULLETIN American College of Surgeons
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
The combination of my interest in anatomy and the range
of what you could do and make an acute difference is what
drew me to general surgery.