We had a lot of failures, of course. One example is when we first
started repairing diaphragmatic hernia in utero.
two were one and the same. There was no, “Let’s go
to the lab and study a problem.” It was always, “Here
is a problem in a patient. Let’s figure out what to do.”
I didn’t have a distinction between clinical surgery
In terms of personal life, that could have been a
huge problem, but I managed to find a great wife.
During that busy time, we raised four kids here in
San Francisco. We lived close enough to the hospital
that I could either run or walk to work, so I could be
with them a lot. One of them is a third-year medical
student, and she wants to be a surgeon.
What advice do you give to potential surgeons who
come through your lab and really want to conduct
research and be clinically active?
I don’t think I ever formulated that sort of advice.
Our system is more of providing an example, and I
think people see how much fun it is. I would just say
do what you like to do and have some fun.
Do you see any big challenges facing young
surgeon-scientists today? Obviously the funding
environment is challenging, and a lot of academic
departments are not as supportive of protected
time for research.
Yes, it’s terrible. I feel bad looking at our young
people now because there is so much pressure on
them to justify their existence by making money
and operating that it can be really difficult to succeed in science. Also, I think maybe the expectation
of being a triple threat—I don’t know if it is even
possible or even a good goal anymore. I say, if you
want to do something creative, do something about
what you see. I don’t think it’s right anymore to do
what folks used to do, which is have one clinical life
and one research life that aren’t connected.
Is there anything you think we can do as a commu-
nity to support the concept of surgeon-scientists?
It seems like it is almost a dying breed.
I totally agree. The usual answer is that departments
at teaching hospitals need to encourage and pay for it,
to allow for surgeons to take time off to do research.
But that is an old answer. I can’t think of a new answer
for that situation.
How often do you hear back from patients and
families from all of these studies over the years?
All the time. It’s wonderful. I’m not clinically active
anymore, otherwise I would still be seeing them. I
still have contact with my first successful fetal surgery patient; he sends me cards. Seeing the benefit
is absolutely the best part of it.
What do you think is your greatest accomplish-
ment so far?
Clinically, moving this field forward has inspired
you from day one—that has to be a great accom-
Yes, it’s always really fun to do something brand new.
I guess that would be the best accomplishment, doing
something completely new.