Letter from the Chair

Dr. Jeffrey B. Matthews

Jeffrey B. Matthews, MD
Dallas B. Phemister Professor of Surgery
Chair, Department of Surgery
Surgeon-in-Chief, The University of Chicago Medicine
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Investing in the Future

2020 was a challenging year. The COVID-19 pandemic altered—perhaps forever—the way we function as surgeons, as individuals, and as a society. Adjusting to a new normal was necessary; however, amidst all the change, what remained unwavering was our commitment to shaping the future of research, surgical care, and education, as we strive to build an ever-more diverse and inclusive environment in which all can thrive. Our surgical ecosystem has proven to be nimble, adaptable, and remarkably resilient as we continue to evolve and adapt to sustain our mission. As we continue to weather these turbulent times (and perhaps even see clearer skies ahead as the current pandemic, we hope, enters its final phase), our collective successes have enabled us as the Department of Surgery to turn our attention to the ways we will continue to invest in the future.

So that the culture of the broad field of Surgery can continue to evolve, we are investing in efforts to embed new processes and new perspectives into our everyday work. For example, the Department of Surgery established a new Promotions Committee led by Professor and Chief of Thoracic Surgery Jessica Donington, MD, MSCR. Bringing together a small but representative group of engaged faculty, this committee is relooking at pathways to academic promotion based on a broader appreciation of non-traditional activities that bring impact and distinction to the department and the University beyond than simply tallying publications and extramural grants.

The work of this committee interdigitates with the efforts of other initiatives launched by the DEI Steering Committee to enhance mentoring, career development, fair compensation, wellness, and continual learning across the department. This work is coordinated under the leadership of Associate Professor of Surgery Chelsea Dorsey, MD, who was recently promoted to Vice-Chair of the Department of Surgery for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Signs of progress are everywhere: in our hallways, in our departmental communications, and in our deepening efforts in advocacy and activism.

In this year’s Annual Report, we highlight novel programs and procedures, as well as the groundbreaking research of our stellar faculty, particularly our young faculty who are the latest additions to our team. Their impressive work will not only continue to improve patient outcomes, but also fills us with optimism for the future of Surgery. We hope our readers gain insight into our faculty’s varied journeys to the OR, and through these stories appreciate in a different light their profound dedication to improving our patients’ quality of life, in a commitment that is universal throughout the Department of Surgery. In just a short time, their hard work has already positively impacted the lives of our patients.

For example, laryngologist Brandon Baird, MD, leads our dynamic Voice Center and dedicatedly works to restore three of the most vital aspects of living: talking, swallowing, and breathing. Dr. Baird, who is also a trained musician, managed to splice his artistry and musical ear with his desire to care for and help others. Urologist Parth Modi, MD, MS, consistently incorporates novel techniques into his practice that not only detect and treat urological diseases successfully, but are also gentler and less disruptive to his patients’ lives.

Minimally invasive general surgeon Yalini Vigneswaran, MD, MS, leads our burgeoning Esophageal Foregut Program. She and her multidisciplinary team pride themselves on providing a highly individualized, patient-centered approach to surgery, which allows for customization of approach for each patient’s individual anatomy, symptoms, and values using the latest in endoscopic, laparoscopic, and robotic tools. Colon and rectal surgeon Kinga Skowron Olortegui, MD—a true UChicago “lifer” from undergraduate education to faculty, incorporates her extraordinary surgical skills as well as sensitivity and empathy in her approach to colorectal care, striving to make inevitably uncomfortable situations less so for her patients.

Vascular surgeon-scientist Luka Pocivavsek, MD, PhD, shares his passion for solving elaborate puzzles that connect his scientific and his clinical practice, and how he consistently educates himself in an effort to offer better solutions to his patients with aortic dissections. He is the recipient of a new R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support his laboratory.

Pediatric surgeon Carmelle Romain, MD, shares her multifaceted journey to the OR, and innovative research in the telehealth platform for pediatric patients and their families—finding ways to make it convenient and inclusive to everyone. A vital component of Dr. Romain’s research is collecting data to figure out who actually connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with potential socioeconomic and geographic factors that play into identified connectivity barriers.

I am delighted to present to you the Department of Surgery 2021 Annual Report: Investing in the Future, which highlights these and other faculty, as well as the collective efforts of our whole team including our learners, our nurses and allied health professionals, our research staff, and our dedicated executive and administrative staff. This year’s report is packed with stories that not only highlight the extraordinary work of our faculty, but also their unique paths into Surgery. We focus on the importance of research, personalized medicine, quality of life, multidisciplinary care, mentorship, humanity, education, and perseverance. It is my hope that these stories provide insight into their worlds and inspire our future surgical leaders.