New hires at Wexner Medical Center help expand surgical innovation, education
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has recruited three nationally renowned surgeons to lead initiatives that will enhance treatment for vascular disorders, influence acute care surgery practices and transform surgical training.
Heena Santry, an associate professor of surgery specializing in trauma and critical care, joined Ohio State in September as the founding director of the Center for Surgical Health Assessment, Research and Policy (SHARP). New arrivals this week are Amalia Cochran, a professor of surgery specializing in burn treatment and the new vice chair for education for the Department of Surgery, and Professor Timur Sarac, incoming chief of the vascular surgery division and founding director of the Aortic Center.
Sarac, who came to Ohio State from Yale University School of Medicine and previously was a surgeon for 15 years at the Cleveland Clinic, succeeds Patrick Vaccaro as vascular division chief. Vaccaro has been at Ohio State since 1981 and will continue in his clinical role at the medical center.
A holder of more than 25 patents for the development of novel stent technologies for small and large vessels, Sarac also spent 16 years in the Army Reserves. He was awarded a U.S. Army commendation medal during the Iraqi/Afghanistan wars for his innovative endovascular approach to treating patients.
Sarac said the Aortic Center at Ohio State will establish teams of vascular and cardiac surgeons and cardiologists to repair the most challenging aortic aneurysms with hybrid open and minimally invasive surgical procedures. As a high-volume center with two state-of-the-art hybrid operating rooms and this multidisciplinary patient care approach, Wexner Medical Center will be well positioned to participate in clinical trials for new vascular surgical devices that aren’t available to the broader community, he said.
On his return to Ohio, Sarac said, “This is probably the only place in the country I would have gone to,” describing Ohio State’s vascular surgery division as “an incredibly strong group with a long history of clinical excellence, with great building blocks to grow and expand. To come in and work with such an outstanding group is exciting.”
Cochran comes to Ohio State after 20 years – minus one fellowship year in Galveston, Texas – in Utah. She spent 19 years as a resident and then faculty clinician caring for adult and pediatric burn patients at the University of Utah. In addition to her role as vice chair for education, she was recruited to succeed Larry Jones as director of the Wexner Medical Center’s burn program upon his upcoming retirement.
She described the surgical education enterprise as two overlapping circles: an administrative component that includes training the next generation of surgeons through programs for medical students, residents and fellows, as well as a scholarly component: “We’re working very hard to create an enterprise where we’re not just doing a great job administering the education program, but we’re also being systematic and scholarly – we are assessing, evaluating and developing new curriculum and studying those as part of what we do.”
Cochran will also maintain her own research program, which has ranged from examinations of new treatment techniques and burn care practices to a subject she knows well from firsthand experience: factors that influence women academic surgeons’ advancement in the field.
“I don’t see that research going away – it is still enough of an issue and there are still enough active challenges that we’ve got to keep getting information and education out there and we’ve got to keep talking about it,” she said, crediting Wexner Medical Center leaders who are committed to diversity and inclusion and embracing change.
“My interest grew out of a place of recognizing that women weren’t being seen equally in surgery in a lot of places and trying to figure out how to have a fair and a level playing field. … While my work has focused on the gender piece of that, it does extend to racial and ethnic minorities as well: How do we create a level playing field for everybody who is talented and committed and interested to succeed in academic surgery?”
Santry’s research focus, too, represents change at Ohio State and nationally. A self-described “half surgeon, half social worker,” she is a pioneer among surgeons for her consideration of psychosocial factors that influence outcomes for patients undergoing emergency surgery, typically as a result of sudden illness or injury. Recruited to Ohio State to start a surgical outcomes research center, she proposed a more comprehensive, multidisciplinary health services research center.
“I was attracted to the field of medicine not just as a scientist but as someone interested in social justice,” she said. “I thought the best way to balance my interest in science and my interest in truly doing good for people in the world who are suffering the most was to pursue a career in medicine.”
She combined her interests during surgical training by participating in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program during her residency at the University of Chicago. After almost eight years on the medical faculty at the University of Massachusetts, she made the professional move for an opportunity to bring about transformative change.
“I saw here at Ohio State an environment that was really inviting for someone with my goals and vision. What attracted me was a real commitment … to advance the health services research agenda, not just for our own department but campus-wide,” said Santry, citing the support of Department of Surgery Chair Tim Pawlik and College of Medicine Dean K. Craig Kent, who is also a surgeon.
“My very pointed goal in my role here is to empower other surgeons who are interested in examining the biopsychosocial underpinnings of surgical disease to do that well.”
All three new faculty members credited Kent and Pawlik for their visionary leadership and creation of an attractive environment for innovation and discovery.
“From an academic standpoint there is an incredible amount of intellectual energy and promise with Craig Kent coming in – I’ve known him for 20 years,” Sarac said. “I feel the same way about Tim Pawlik, who is a superstar academician.
“To be under a program led by those two with the amount of investment in this already outstanding institution … and seeing them working to take it to the next level – how could you not want to be part of that?”