Did you always know that you wanted to be a
In high school, I was doing freelance computer programming, and I was writing software programs,
including medical office software. However, I did not
have much of a connection with the field of medicine.
I went to Rice University, where I studied computer
science, electrical engineering, and music. I am actually the first person in my family to have completed
my undergraduate studies in the U.S. I was born in
Israel, and we moved to the U.S. when I was young,
when my parents were doing their graduate studies. I
am the first physician in my family.
I enrolled at Rice with the intention of being a
computer programmer. My focus was software development, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. Computer
science is kind of a lonely endeavor. You spend all of
your time sitting in front of a computer, struggling
with the computer, not really interacting with others.
It was studying music that helped me find that
human connection, and it connected me to the Rice
student volunteer program. I created a program where
we went to the children’s center to present music I was
writing to hospitalized children. I enjoyed seeing the
relationship between the medical providers and their
patients. Having a direct impact on a patient’s life was a
very strong draw for me. When the time came to decide
what I wanted to do after graduation, I decided to apply
to medical school. Fortunately, Hopkins seemed to like
“weirdos” like me with unusual backgrounds.
When did you decide on surgery as a specialty?
For me, everything about medical school was new and
challenging and interesting. I realized early on that I
wanted to become a surgeon because it seemed like
the most intense, definitive form of disease management, and it was very hands-on. I had spent hours
typing on a computer, and I spent most of my childhood playing the piano, so working with my hands
was very natural, and surgical technique came very
naturally to me.
How were you introduced to research?
My interest in research started in the basic science lab of Martha A. Zeiger, MD, FACS, an
endocrine surgeon at Hopkins who, at the time,
was studying microsatellite polymerase chain
reaction techniques to improve diagnosis of
thyroid tumors. [Dr. Zeiger is professor of surgery, oncology, cellular and molecular medicine;
associate vice-chair of surgery development; and
associate dean for postdoctoral affairs at Johns
Hopkins University School of Medicine.] The
thought that we could have a direct impact on
patient care through science was very appealing.
Through this experience, I started to engage in
the duality of coming into work and immediately
being able to affect somebody’s life, but then also
spending time doing research that could have an
effect on patient care, clinical decision making,
and policy. The thought that I could combine
clinical practice and research as components of
the same job was very exciting.
Part of the surgical residency at Hopkins
involved spending some time in the lab, so I went
up to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and
spent three years in the lab of Patricia K. Donahoe, MD, FACS. [Dr. Donahoe is director, pediatric
surgery research laboratories, and chief emerita,
pediatric surgery service, Massachusetts General
Hospital; and Marshall K. Bartles Professor of
Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston.] At that
time, I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon, since I
had been so inspired by the children I previously
saw as a volunteer. Dr. Donahoe had a very strong,
celebrated basic science lab, and I learned in those
three years how to ask scientific questions, how to
apply for grants, and how to connect the science
we were doing to clinical care.
During my fellowship, it occurred to me that I
could use all of this quantitative analytical training that I had received as a computer scientist and
apply it to the clinical and policy questions we had
in transplantation. From there, my interest and passion for outcomes research grew.
During my fellowship, it occurred to me that I could
use all of this quantitative analytical training that I had
received as a computer scientist and apply it to the clinical
and policy questions we had in transplantation.