Here is the dilemma: [while] it is the greatest time ever to
ask scientific questions, and the reagents, animal models,
and technologies available are better than ever, the funding
situation is so tenuous.
Did you have the opportunity to meet Dr. Jacobson?
I did—at the awards luncheon. What stood out to me
was the remarkable passion and vision he and his wife
have for supporting people. It was truly contagious,
and I felt fortunate to have that interaction.
What are your thoughts on mentorship?
For me, it was critical. Dr. Debas and Dr. Harrison completely rerouted my entire life. You can
have unproductive collisions with people in your
life, and those two were the opposite. Dr. Debas
emphasized the role of a surgeon-scientist, and
Dr. Harrison gave me a dream project. I must say
it is very humbling. I hope that I can have a fraction of that impact on the people I support. I try
to inspire and support those who interact with me,
particularly all of those residents who have come
through my lab. Many of them have gone on to
academic careers, which I find very rewarding. My
role model for doing that is Dr. Harrison. I try to
approach my mentees with [the following questions in mind]: “What can I do to further their
career? How can I, so to speak, give them all the
food, water, and sunlight to help them grow?” I
make sure they understand that I am here to support their career, not mine, which is important.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for
those of us who are embarking on a career as a
Here is the dilemma: [while] it is the greatest time
ever to ask scientific questions, and the reagents, ani-
mal models, and technologies available are better than
ever, the funding situation is so tenuous. So, at a time
when you can ask the most robust questions because
of your reagents, working with the NIH budget is
extremely challenging. For a new person entering
the field, if they don’t have the right niche to protect
them for five years or more, whatever it takes to get
a grant (which is more than one to two years), then I
think it is even more challenging. Selecting the right
academic milieu, with the right amount of protected
time and internal funding for an extended period of
time, is a challenge. I think every young, motivated,
and talented person deserves that. I worry that young
surgeon-scientists will get turned off, that a whole
generation will lose interest because of the funding
level and so on. This is the time that those who are
provided resources will benefit disproportionately.
It is worrisome to hear that some large academic
surgery programs will not support NIH K awards
for junior faculty because they cannot protect
50 percent of their time for research.
Yes, that is tough. It comes down to the sustainable,
competitive advantage in your geographic area.
When I came to Stanford 15 years ago, Tom Krum-mel [MD, FACS] and the Packard Children’s Hospital
made a commitment to pediatric surgical research.
We have intentionally sought out relationships with
local industry and patrons, recognizing the opportunities of being in a community with significant
industrial development and wealth. It is an exciting
time for us at Stanford surgery for that reason.
Is there anything you can think of that we, as a
community, can do to support surgeon-scientists?
We have to provide resources; we cannot just protect
time. In this era, a scientist needs to develop significant, compelling delivery of data for every grant to
maintain funding. You mentioned K awards; that 50
or 75 percent of protected time only works if the salary is $100,000. That cost sharing is real, so supportive
junior faculty awards from sources other than the NIH
are important to be able to do that. There are societies
that are making important matching contributions,
in addition to the local department. In California, we
have the California Institute for Regenerative Medi-
APR 2015 BULLETIN American College of Surgeons
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH