Message from the Chair

Kenneth A. Azarow, M.D., FACS, FAAP
Mackenzie Professor and Chair

Welcome to the OHSU Department of Surgery! We are proud of our rich history, robust educational programs and board-certified faculty who lead the field in advanced operative care. Please read on for a closer look at what makes our department so unique.

OHSU Medical School – dating back nearly 135 years

The University of Oregon was established in 1887 and is one of the oldest medical schools west of the Mississippi. We were part of the Oregon University system until 1995, when OHSU was born as a nonprofit public corporation. The new structure created an opportunity for OHSU to nimbly navigate a very competitive healthcare and research environment without wavering from our mission to serve the educational and clinical needs of Oregon. As a result, OHSU has been on a steady growth curve in research, education, and clinical care over the past two decades, a trend much admired in our community and across the country.

Surgery Innovation at OHSU

The leadership of our physicians and scientists can be captured in three words: imagination, excellence, and focus. As a result of this chemistry, many revolutionary advances in medicine and surgery have started at OHSU, including the first mechanical heart valve, the first percutaneous angioplasty and coronary arteriography with specialized catheters, the first balloon embolectomy catheter, the first kidney transplant in an adolescent, the first use of imatinib for myelocytic leukemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and the first totally endoscopic esophagogastric fundoplication. Many of these innovations commenced in the Department of Surgery.

Integrated Collaboration

The Department of Surgery consists of 9 integrated yet independent divisions. In some institutions, departments of surgery are merely “holding companies” for the independent surgical subspecialties. However, our Department of Surgery is held together by a culture of community and a great deal of interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, our liver cancer program spans the divisions of gastrointestinal, oncologic and transplant surgery. The esophageal cancer program brings thoracic surgeons and GI surgeons side-by-side, and our emergency general surgery service is a combined effort of general surgery and trauma surgery and critical care. A “first in the nation” collaboration between otolaryngology and endocrinology brings the skills of both disciplines to the care of the patient with thyroid and parathyroid disease.

The Knowledge of All for the Care of One

One might ask how the naturally competitive spirit of surgeons is put aside for the betterment of the patient and institution. This is where leadership comes into play. OHSU is interested in “The knowledge of all for the care of one.” Indeed, we have found that the collective intelligence of individuals from different backgrounds is not only refreshing but brings innovative care solutions to the bedside. 

The spirit of collaboration also extends to the laboratories where our research programs tie basic scientists, health researchers and surgeons together to answer some of the fundamental clinical questions that continue to plague us. Built on the history of innovation alluded to earlier, the Department of Surgery has re-launched its Surgical Innovation Program, assembling surgeons, engineers, entrepreneurs, and investors to create engineering solutions to the problems encountered daily by surgeons and patients alike.

Largest Surgical Residency in the Country

With regards to education, OHSU is proud to have the largest surgical residency in the country. As the only residency program in the state, we are sized correctly to provide surgeons for a population of over four million, including both urban and rural areas in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The advantages of such a large program are two- fold: first, you have many peers to learn from and lean on; second, a large program gives you the opportunity to train in a variety of settings. How many programs offer the chance to rotate in five different community hospitals, two children’s hospitals, two level 1 trauma centers, a VAMC, and a world class University Hospital? While trainees may spread out during the week for a myriad of opportunities, the Monday morning gatherings and teaching sessions bring us all together and offer a chance for any resident to reconnect with peers and faculty from the University and VAMC.

Individualized Training

The individuality of our advising and mentoring system can really tailor the training experience to our residents’ individual interests and career goals. And a look at the accomplishments of our alumni would argue that this individualized system is working well. It would take me another several pages to list all the grants, honors and publications of our residents over the past decade. Suffice it to say that the OHSU surgery residency is sufficiently flexible that every resident’s experience is a little different. The list of individualized pursuits includes 1 to 3 years of research, rural surgery experience, advanced degrees, and surgery training serving a variety of under-resourced areas. Approximately half to two-thirds of our residents elect to do additional fellowship training, and almost all get 1 of their top choices for fellowships. For those who elect to go directly into general surgery practice, their skills and judgement upon graduation make them instant leaders in their hospitals and community.

Our Community and Culture

In closing, let me talk about the people. The faculty and staff at OHSU rarely leave. Sure, Portland is a great city and the Northwest is a very desirable portion of the country to live in. More importantly though, the longevity of our faculty and staff reflect upon the culture and work environment of OHSU. We truly enjoy coming to work every day and working side-by-side with some of the brightest scientists and most remarkable physicians in the nation. We value multidisciplinary collaboration and fresh thinking. We celebrate each other’s wins and we push for advances that challenge the limits of healthcare. I’m inspired every day and proud to call OHSU home.

Come see for yourself.