Dr. Atala was interviewed in October 2015 by Juliet
A. Emamaullee, MD, PhD, a transplant surgery fellow
at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and member
of the Surgical Research Committee.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a
Yes, I was drawn to medicine from an early age. I had
a brief detour in high school where my interests went
elsewhere. However, by the time I went to college, I
knew that medicine was what I wanted to do after all.
Are you the first physician member of your family?
Yes, I am. I was inspired by our family doctor who provided our care throughout my childhood.
What drew you to surgery? Did you have an expe-
rience during medical school that inspired you?
I initially thought that I would do something other than
surgery. For this reason, I scheduled my surgical rotation toward the end of my clinical clerkship. When I
actually experienced it, though, I thought, “Wow, this
is what I want to do after all.”
You chose urology as a subspecialty. How did you
move in that direction?
After I completed my general surgery rotation and realized I wanted to pursue a surgical specialty, I scheduled
additional surgical electives. I loved all aspects of surgery; it didn’t matter what area of surgery I was in.
When I was on my urology rotation, I saw that you
could take care of young patients and older patients,
males or females, and problems that were acute or
chronic. You followed some patients for a long time
and others were more typical of a surgical practice,
where you operated on them and then didn’t see them
after their routine postoperative follow-up visit. What
appealed to me is that it had all the elements I loved
What features were you looking for when you
picked a residency training program?
I was primarily looking for a program that would allow
me to become a good clinical surgeon. My intention
was to practice urologic surgery, likely in a private setting. I didn’t know much about the academic world at
all, as I had not really been exposed to it.
What drew you to science?
This was one of the pivotal moments of my life. My
goal was to get trained, go into private practice, and do
my trade. Then, an interesting thing happened. During
my residency, I did a rotation in pediatric urologic surgery, and I fell in love with it. I was particularly drawn
to reconstructive surgery.
As I applied to fellowship programs, it just so hap-
pened that I got a phone call from the head of pediatric
urology at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medi-
cal School, Dr. Alan B. Retik [MD, FACS]. He said,
“We would love to have you join us. We are going to
give you a choice, because we are adding a research
year to our training program. We want to let you
choose between doing a research year or going straight
through the clinical track.”
I told him I just wanted to do the clinical program.
He asked if I was sure, and I responded that I was, at
which point Dr. Retik said, “I see you have done some
clinical research during your residency, and you really
have the potential to do well in the academic track
with the research year.” I said, “Yes, but I don’t think
I want to do that.” He told me to think about it and
that he would call me back in a week. A week later, he
MAY 2016 BULLETIN American College of Surgeons
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
When I was on my urology rotation, I saw that you could take
care of young patients and older patients, males or females,
and problems that were acute or chronic.... What appealed
to me is that it had all the elements I loved in medicine.