From ranch hand to surgery trailblazer, Craig Kent has a seat at the national table
Growing up on a cattle ranch in Nevada was better preparation for Dr. K. Craig Kent’s vascular surgery career than one might think.
“I originally had not thought about being a surgeon, but being a rancher, I was good with my hands. I liked fixing things and surgeons fix things, so it all came together,” Kent says.
That good professional fit led to Kent’s career as a clinician, researcher and educator and a rewarding journey of leadership as a division chief and an academic department chair at several prestigious institutions. He joined The Ohio State University on Sept. 1, 2016, as dean of the College of Medicine.
Over the summer, Kent exceeded his own ambitious dreams by being elected to lead the American Board of Surgery. He is vice chair this year, will serve as chair-elect next year and chair the board in 2019-20.
“It’s the job of the American Board of Surgery to be certain that surgeons are well trained,” Kent said. “Part of this is innovating new training pathways that make it easier for surgeons to learn. The early phases of surgical training can now be conducted out of the operating room with the use of simulation, new learning technologies and online learning.”
Assessment of a surgeon’s capabilities after training is another function of the board, which is currently focused on ways to keep surgeons in practice up to date with new innovations in the field.
“In my years on the American Board of Surgery, I’ve been deeply involved in all of these initiatives. It’s really been quite enjoyable, and for me it’s an incredible honor to be elected by my peers.”
Kent is not new to charting a course in his profession. Once he settled on the specialization of vascular surgery and began fellowship training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, he learned he had a love for the research he had avoided up to that point.
“I was first exposed to research in my fellowship, although I had certain plans to go into private practice. I ended up publishing a number of papers and very much enjoyed the innovation,” he said. “I just found research to be really exciting and from that moment on decided that I had to have a career in academics.”
Kent went on to run the divisions of vascular surgery at both Cornell and Columbia universities following the merger of New York and Presbyterian hospitals, and followed those 11 years in New York with eight years as chair of surgery at the University of Wisconsin.
“I took the department from 26th in the country in NIH funding to fifth, and we essentially doubled our clinical enterprise while I was there,” he said. Eventually, he was interested in taking the next logical step in medical leadership.
A single visit to Columbus opened Kent’s eyes to the possibilities and potential behind Ohio State’s size and strengths, bright and talented people, and extraordinary loyalty.
“People love this institution. They’re very faithful and they’ll do anything for Ohio State,” he said. “To have faculty that feel that way about your college of medicine and medical center is an incredible gift.”
The college has had a good year under Kent’s leadership. He recently inaugurated his first class of 207 new medical students whose average GPA is 3.77 and average MCAT score is at the 90th percentile – “an impressive class of individuals that I think would match up to any medical school in the country,” he said.
In addition, the college’s NIH funding grew 20 percent over the last year at a time when the national NIH budget was flat – a sign that Ohio State has a “really fertile environment where people can come and perform innovative research and be incredibly successful.”
“We also opened two new clinical facilities and our physicians can’t keep up with the clinical demand. At a time when many academic medical centers are struggling to attract patients, the Wexner Medical Center is recruiting, building and continuing to grow,” Kent said. “I suppose our doctors must be pretty talented or we wouldn’t have so many patients. In fact, patients come from hundreds of miles to see our specialist doctors at the Wexner Medical Center.”
He’ll take some credit for this success but also lauds his Ohio State colleagues for their many years of contributions that have made Ohio State a great institution delivering care that is recognized nationally for its quality, producing a steady stream of high-impact research and providing exceptional teaching, all in the quest of helping the Wexner Medical Center’s patients.
The university is also well-represented across the country through the professional activities and relationships that are hallmarks of academic medicine: journal editing, service on NIH study sections, visiting professorships, conference presentations and lectures, and memberships in professional societies. In these ways and others, Ohio State has a seat at the table when important discussions are taking place, and is in the room when important decisions are made.
“All of us want Ohio State to grow and rise in national prominence, and we realize that the way to accomplish that is to be at the table. ... We have so many people from Ohio State now that are doing this on a daily basis – there’s somebody out every day giving a lecture, being inducted into a society, leading a society, presenting innovative research. It is through these activities that we have the opportunity to have a national impact.”
Academic health care is one of five pillars of Ohio State’s strategic plan, and Kent arrived in time to participate in development of the plan designed to elevate Ohio State’s national stature in academic medicine.
“We have a grand adventure in front of us,” he said. “The Wexner Medical Center is a tremendous place and I’m the beneficiary. I’m so fortunate to have been asked to help lead as the College of Medicine Dean.”