When Brian Blades, M.D., was appointed chair of Surgery in 1946, there was no way he could have imagined what his department would look like today. If he saw it now, he might compare the hospital’s computer-controlled robots — which frequently replace traditional scalpels — to visions possible only in science fiction novels. Surgeons, he might marvel, are no longer limited by the flexibility of their wrists or the acuity of their vision as they perform complex procedures.
Blades couldn’t know what the future would hold, but he did have a vision: One that built a foundation that made all of today’s accomplishments possible, says Anton Sidawy, M.D., M.P.H. ’99, who began his tenure as chair of the department in December 2010.
Now, Sidawy, an internationally renowned vascular surgeon, former chief of surgical services at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, immediate past president of the Society for Vascular Surgery, and current editor-in-chief of the Journal of Vascular Surgery, has his own vision: “to take what is excellent and improve upon it.”
Sidawy, who has served on the GW faculty for 25 years, aims to expand and reorganize the department, adding surgical services, programs, and divisions, as well as a greater number of specialized subspecialties. “When you come to GW as a patient,” he explains, “not only will you be treated by a specialist, but you will be treated by a specialist with a very specific interest in your condition.”
He has started the process by expanding a division he knows much about: vascular surgery, which was formerly a two-person operation. Sidawy added four surgeons to the team with a diverse set of interests, dramatically expanding the division’s clinical clout and workload. “In a short time, it has become one of the most comprehensive groups in the region,” he notes. Most of the new faculty members also will be conducting research and boosting the department’s capacity for clinical studies and trials.
In addition, the Division of General Surgery will be restructured to promote the growth of subspecialties, including hepato-biliary-pancreatic surgery, bariatric surgery, minimally invasive surgery, foregut surgery, and trauma. Currently, a national search is under way for a new director of trauma. When the position is filled, Sidawy will have increased the department’s full-time faculty by about 25 percent.
“It’s all really exciting. We are bringing in surgeons who not only are clinically top-notch, but also have research potential and are excellent educators,” he says.
Sidawy also hopes to build upon the department’s educational endeavors, and recently founded the Division of Surgical Education, which will incorporate faculty from all specialties to study and develop new educational paradigms for students and residents.
Meanwhile, Sidawy remains cognizant of the department’s storied past. He recently renamed the resident teams (formerly merely numbers) after Blades and other former chairs, including Paul Adkins, M.D., a renowned thoracic surgeon; Ralph DePalma, M.D., who strengthened GW’ surgical residents’ research efforts; and Joseph Giordano, M.D., the founder of the GW Trauma Center. “This reminds residents and students of the excellent history the department has had over the years, and provides them and the junior faculty with a sense of continuity and historical perspective they can be proud of,” he explains.
And Sidawy feels the same way about his new post. “On a daily basis, I work with surgeons who want to do the best they can do for patient care, education, and advancing the science of surgery,” he says. “I feel quite fortunate and proud to be given the opportunity to lead this department at GW, and to work with an excellent group of surgeons at this stage of my career.”