Dr. Freischlag with
Angela Kokkosis, MD,
who has shadowed
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
Can you touch upon mentorship and how it has
influenced your career? I’m particularly interested
in how you, as a senior surgeon-scientist who has
mentored so many other people, use mentors and
how those relationships have changed over time?
I think you can never have too many mentors. Just
recently, I’ve taken a new job at Wake Forest Baptist
Hospital as the president and CEO of that hospital. My
previous dean at Hopkins, Ed Miller, MD, helped me
negotiate that deal. He’s retired now, but he is still my
mentor. Have mentors along the way who have known
you since you were young. Haile T. Debas, MD, FACS,
—who used to be chair at UC San Francisco and was
a young faculty member when I was an intern—still
mentors me and gives me career advice. He has been
on the board of advisors at UC Davis Health. Stay connected with people who know you, know what you
want to do and where your strengths are, and ask them
questions about how you can do things or if you should
do them at all.
One of the most fun things is to see many of my
mentees in leadership roles. Christian deVirgilio, MD,
FACS, chair of surgery at Harbor-UCLA, was my third-year medical student. I’ve had a few of my mentees
turn back to me and ask what they can do for me.
I have found that to be really fun because here I’ve
mentored them and now they’re in a position where
they could support me. That’s been great, especially
if you’re running for national office or you’re up to be
something important, because they can say they’ve
known you over time.
I rely on a lot of people in my office who aren’t
surgeons. I had a great chief of staff at UC Davis, and
my administrative assistants were great. Turning to
them with questions and asking them, “What do you
think of this?” and having them give input can be very
helpful, especially in my role as a dean, a new area in
which I was not a big expert. So part of it is asking a lot
of questions so others can help you get more familiar
with areas outside your expertise.
How can junior faculty improve their approach to
You can’t just assume that because you know someone
they’ll be a mentor. You have to ask them up front. A
mentor actually is always on your side. Sometimes you
need a coach, sometimes you need people who just
want you to win, who will coach you to get a successful grant, for example. You also need sponsors, people
that are going to put your name in for this or that.
If you’re a mentee, you have to participate. You have
to show up, you have to be able to take negative feed-
back when your mentor says, “You’re not doing so well;
you need to do this, this, and that.”
Keep in mind, a mentor may end up not being your
coach or your sponsor. They may not put your name
up for stuff. Some may not want you to be as good as
them. You’ll meet a few of those people, and they’re
not going to be a good coach or sponsor because they
really like you not being as good as them.
The best mentor is somebody who would actually
want you to be better than they are, and that’s why
they need to turn into a coach and sponsor at times.
You can say, “OK, you’ve been a great mentor, but I
really want to be on this committee,” or “I really want
to get into this society; can you help me do that?” So,
part of it is making sure you know the rules. I would
prefer my mentees end up doing even more amazing
things than I. That’s what I would like them to do, but
not everyone’s wired that way.
Any closing thoughts?
I think part of the process is to realize that, as you
go forward, it is a journey to make success happen.
The journey to a great place will include some failures along with successes. I think it is really amazing
that people still want to pursue surgical research. We
have to keep surgeons interested and engaged in surgical research. ♦