This March, at a virtual ceremony and lecture, the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital celebrated the appointment of Justin Sacks, MD, MBA, as the Chairholder of the Sydney M. Shoenberg, Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Endowed Chair in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The endowed chair was initiated with a gift from the Shoenberg Foundation in 1996, just before the merger of Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital.
“The gift brings life, the gift brings resources, and the gift will allow myself as chief to create educational pathways, research pathways and clinical pathways that I might not have been able to do, if it had not been for this support,” Sacks says. “This is a gift that continues to give in perpetuity. It is a legacy.”
The first chair was Susan Mackinnon, MD, who was installed in 1997. Four years prior, she performed the country’s first nerve transplant.
“Dr. Sacks plans to expand on the strengths established in peripheral nerve research, upper extremity surgery and other areas to grow tissue engineering and biomedical innovation,” says President of Barnes-Jewish Hospital John Lynch, MD. “He brings his boundless energy and drive to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine to grow the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery while staying true to what makes it excel.”
Sacks joined the Department of Surgery as Division Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 2020. He spent the last decade at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he was the Vice-Chair of Clinical Operations and Director of Oncological Reconstruction. A graduate from Cornell University, Sacks earned his medical degree at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, followed by fellowships in microsurgery research and hand and upper extremity surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as well as a microvascular cancer reconstruction fellowship at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he was a faculty member prior to joining Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
His research focuses on of vascularized composite allotransplantation, tissue engineering and vascular perfusion assessment. His clinical interests include the reconstruction of all forms of acquired, oncological and traumatic defects ranging from the head and neck to the breast, chest, abdomen, pelvis and extremities.
In 2016 Sacks earned an MBA in medical service management at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University. He is the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Startup Lifesprout. In addition, his team has developed a pressure sensing device to help mitigate pressure sore development in the in-patient setting.
Sacks maintains a robust clinical reconstructive practice while also performing basic science, clinical outcomes and translational research. He has authored over 100 original publications in peer-reviewed journals and 20 textbook chapters on plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery. He is fellow member of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery and Plastic Surgery Research Council. He is a founding member of the American Society of Reconstructive Transplantation. Currently, he is the immediate past-Chair of the Plastic Surgery Research Council.
At the virtual ceremony, Sacks was met with congratulations from a number of special guests. Present for the virtual ceremony were his colleagues in the Department of Surgery, leadership from Washington University School of Medicine, his mentors and fellow surgeons from across the country, and his family.
“Justin creates firsts,” says his mother, Renee Sacks. “He is a physician, researcher and administrator, but he is also an entrepreneur. Not for his own purposes, but for the goal of better medicine. His inventions, his discoveries—many of which are firsts—all focus on advancing patient care and treatment.”
His wife, Bethany Sacks, MD, MEd, also joined the Department of Surgery last year as Director of the Integrated Surgical Clerkship for medical students. In a touching personal message, Bethany and their two children congratulated Justin on the endowed chair.
“As everyone can see, it’s been quite a journey since we met in the Mount Sinai Medical School library in 1997. While both of these New Yorkers never thought we would live in Pittsburgh or Houston, Baltimore or St. Louis, I wouldn’t change a thing. Each place has clearly prepared you exceedingly well for this position,” Bethany Sacks says. “You like to ask yourself ‘Where am I going, and who is coming with me?’ I can tell you that we usually have no idea where you are going next, but we do know that we will be with you all the way, wherever it is.”
The event concluded with Sacks sharing his vision for the future of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the School of Medicine. Sacks strives to serve others. His priority is to improve the clinical, education, research, mentorship and leadership missions of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He is growing the division to deliver the best head-to-toe cancer and trauma reconstruction outcomes for patients. In the past year, the division has doubled its faculty to deliver top patient care in 10 clinical programs: adult craniofacial, aesthetic surgery, breast reconstruction, general reconstructive surgery, hand surgery, limb preservation, lymphedema, nerve surgery, pediatric plastic surgery and transgender surgery.
“My vision for the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is a vision of becoming the number one plastic surgery program in the United States,” Sacks says. “It’s an audacious vision, but with the infrastructure, support and colleagues here, it is a vision we are headed for. The components of my vision are excellence in clinical care, education, research and innovation in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery.”
Donor gifts allow the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to support more than 30 endowed chairs and deanships at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.
Endowed chairs, one of the highest honors bestowed upon physicians, give outstanding researchers and clinicians the ability to pursue groundbreaking work that helps them develop better treatments and technology.
When a new chair is installed, the leadership of Barnes-Jewish and Washington University School of Medicine honor the new chair in a special ceremony, attended by the chairholder’s family and esteemed colleagues.
To learn more, visit the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital website.