Dr. Freischlag (left) in surgery with
Misty Humphries, MD, MAS, RPVI,
FACS, from UC Davis—a vascular
researcher and clinical partner, as
well as mentee
multiple places because probably only one of those is
going to get funded. And you have to be pretty resilient. You’re going to get rejected. You’re going to get
pink slips, and it’s going to feel terrible. But if you talk
to any of the most important surgeon-scientists, all of
them will tell you how they also have been rejected.
It’s a process, but you’ve got to learn to enjoy it along
the way. You really have to be embedded into a successful team for funding to happen.
How did your research interests and activities
change as you took on more leadership positions?
As I took on leadership jobs, I transitioned my research.
When I became division chief at UCLA, I still had a
research lab, but it was mainly run by a resident and a
young faculty member. When I became chair of surgery, I transitioned to outcomes research and got very
much involved with VA clinical trials. Probably some
of the best work I’ve done has been looking at endovascular therapy for aneurysms and looking at outcomes
from a large clinical trial where I was the national
principal investigator. I appreciated the basic science
translational research I did for around 10 to 15 years,
and when I became a leader, I let others run that part
of my life, but was still part of clinical trials.
Can you elaborate about that transition from a
basic science to clinical or outcomes research
focus and some of the struggles associated with
I think there are two big decision checkpoints when
you try to be a surgeon-scientist. In your first five
years, you should determine the following: can you
get funded, can you partner with others, and do
you feel like you’re making progress? We used to
think everybody could get funded at three years, but
when I was at Hopkins, we realized it took about five.
Another important question to consider is whether
you like your life being split between research and
clinical work. I would tell you about half of people
don’t. After five years, they find that the time man-
agement is too crazy, and they love the clinical work
I think the next transition point comes in about 10
years. If you’ve been funded and you’re doing well,
you’re going to get opportunities to be a leader. Do
you want to lead a division, a department, a cancer
center, a lab? Once you decide to be an administrator
and lead, your time also becomes everyone else’s. It
isn’t about your lab or what you’re doing; it’s about
your people. When I came back to UCLA as division
chief, even though we had a small division of seven
people, I realized that it was all about my young faculty. So I hired two young faculty who were really
running the research lab, and I ran the research meetings. At that point, I found that I didn’t miss doing
the research. I liked hearing about it and leading a
If you are going to be a leader, you can’t be a clinician, a researcher, and an administrative leader. I
think that’s too much. I think you either have to be
clinically active and a leader and sort of orchestrate
the research, or have a small clinical practice and be
the primary researcher who leads the lab. In surgery,
if you are going to run a division or department of
surgery and get the respect to lead surgeons, you still
have to be a surgeon. I think it’s hard for a division
chief or a department chair not to be clinically active.
Can you elaborate on the time management strat-
egies that allowed you to become so successful?
First, you have to realize that you need to have a time
management strategy. Most of us come to work and
just see what the heck happens—you know that’s surgery, right? We love calamity and the craziness of it all.
But when you’re talking about your career, you have
to set up your calendar to protect your time. Even if
you ask your boss for protected time, you will tend to