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Special Article
March 1, 2005

The Changing Roles of a Surgical Department Chair: Adapting to a Changing Environment

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Section of Surgical Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn.

Arch Surg. 2005;140(3):258-263. doi:10.1001/archsurg.140.3.258

I was so honored by Dr Organ’s invitation to write this article that I immediately accepted. Then, as I considered this subject—changes in the role of an academic surgical chair—I realized the difficulty I faced. Certainly, any such assessment by me alone is biased by my personal experience and particularly by my incomplete understanding of the roles of an academic surgical chair in the past. Nevertheless, as my wife, Shannon, would be quick to point out, incomplete knowledge of a subject has never stopped me from expounding about it.

To gain perspective about the roles and responsibilities of a surgical chair between 20 and 30 years ago, I sought and received generous insights from James C. Thompson, MD, who served as chair at the University of Texas Medical Branch Department of Surgery from 1970 through 1994. Even with his valuable input and somewhat broader perspective, our experiences in 2 very different academic settings do not necessarily reflect the experiences of other surgical department chairs across the country. In my observations on national trends, I have tried to factor in their broader experiences as well. I have also had valuable input on this topic from my Vanderbilt colleague Naji N. Abumrad, MD, who has served as department chair for 2 institutions in New York. I have considered the changes that have occurred in the role of the department chair during the tenure of my 3 predecessors at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center: H. William Scott, Jr, MD (1952-1982); John L. Sawyers, MD (1982-1993); and James A. O’Neill, Jr, MD (1995-2001).

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