The School of Medicine’s clinical practice group of more than 1,500 full-time clinical physicians and surgeons, called Washington University Physicians, is one of the largest academic clinical practices in the nation. In addition to providing care on the Medical Campus, these physicians extend patient care to community practice across the St. Louis region at locations including Christian Hospital and Alton Memorial Hospital.
Department of Surgery in Community Practice | 2020 Annual Report
Building on a Legacy
Robotic surgery offers numerous advantages for thoracic surgeons, from smaller incisions to greater freedom of movement and precision during operations. This technical fine-tuning results in quicker healing and less pain than open surgery for most patients. The number of robotic cases in the Thoracic Surgery Section has continuously increased in recent years.
Thoracic surgeons at Christian Hospital were among the early adopters of robotic surgery. Professors of Surgery Nabil Munfakh, MD, and Varun Puri, MD, MSCI, have achieved years of clinical success with robotic utilization for lung care in North County. In 2012, they performed the first full lung lobectomy in the St. Louis region through the use of robotic technology.
“This technology gives us the ability to quickly diagnose lung cancer with minimal setback to the patient’s life and recovery,” Munfakh says.
Pulmonary resections, esophageal surgery and surgery for mediastinal tumors—growths that form in the middle of the chest, between the lungs—are all areas of robotic growth in thoracic surgery.
From its early success at Christian Hospital, Benjamin Kozower, MD, MPH, Professor of Surgery, has helped to establish a successful robotic practice at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Thoracic surgeons Ruben Nava, MD, and Shuddhadeb Ray, MD, MPHS, joined the section in recent years, expanding the number of thoracic cases handled robotically. Nava sees patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, while Ray joins Munfakh and Puri at Christian Hospital. Both Nava and Ray completed fellowship training at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where they developed the robotic skills they now put into practice.
The addition of surgeons with a background in robotic surgery has been essential to the program’s growth. Thoracic Surgery Chief Bryan Meyers, MD, MPH, recognized the enthusiasm around this developing technology early, receiving the necessary training and certification for robotic surgery himself. Now, approximately half of the section’s pulmonary resections are performed robotically. Meyers, the Patrick and Joy Williamson Professor of Surgery, expects that number to grow.
“In the last few years, we have reached the tipping point in robotic thoracic surgery,” Meyers says. “We have the investment and expertise in place to offer these procedures for an ever-growing number of patients.”
Colon and Rectal Surgery
Colon and rectal surgeons from the School of Medicine are addressing disparities in health care by expanding access to screening and treatment throughout the St. Louis area. The section has secured grants to provide funding for patients who cannot pay for routine colorectal cancer screening. Surgeons from the section see patients at a growing number of clinical locations. Kerri Ohman, MD, joined the section, extending care to Christian Hospital and Siteman North County. Ohman completed a Colorectal Surgery fellowship and General Surgery residency at Washington University School of Medicine. Her specialty areas include colon and rectal cancer, anal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease.
Katherine Glover-Collins, MD, PhD, brings expertise in breast cancer surgery to Christian Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center North St. Louis County. Glover-Collins is a fellowship-trained breast surgeon with research experience in genetic mutations linked to breast cancer. Many women in North County are diagnosed with late-stage breast cancers due to health disparities in their community. She is addressing these disparities by promoting mammography screening, access to funds for underinsured women and comprehensive cancer care. “If you are a breast cancer patient, you can receive all of the care that you need,” Glover-Collins says. “From surgery to medical oncology and radiation therapy, patients can receive the same excellent care in North County.”
Arnold Bullock, MD, is a leader in the treatment of men’s health conditions at Christian Hospital. In 2019, Christian Hospital recognized Bullock as a Physician of the Year for his compassion, commitment and expert knowledge in innovative technologies and therapies. Bullock extends his practice beyond the clinic by visiting local churches and community partners in North St. Louis. Working with Siteman Cancer Center’s Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities (PECaD), Bullock educates the public on the importance of cancer screening. “PECaD addresses the needs of a medically underserved population,” Bullock says. “Studies have shown the importance of grassroots efforts and community participation in reducing cancer disparities.”
Building on a Legacy
Justin Sacks, MD, MBA, joins the department as Shoenberg Professor and Division Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Sacks comes to Washington University from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he was Vice-Chair of Clinical Operations and Director of Oncological Reconstruction.
With the introduction of new faculty and expansion of clinical programs, Sacks aims to build on the legacy of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. His predecessor, Susan Mackinnon, MD, revolutionized the field of peripheral nerve transfer. Previous chiefs of the division are among the founding figures of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Sacks describes a plastic surgeon’s role as providing the best possible head-to- toe care to all patients in a multidisciplinary setting. To fulfill this role, the division is growing and offering new opportunities for patient care.
The division has established a multidisciplinary lymphedema surgery program, amassing expertise from radiology, physical/occupational therapy, lymphatic medicine, imaging, surgical oncology and plastic and reconstructive surgery. Sacks and Rachel Anolik, MD, who completed a plastic surgery residency at Duke and microvascular and reconstructive fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, provide comprehensive care for lymphedema patients, from diagnosis to advanced imaging and surgical treatment.
Kelly Currie, MD, brings expertise in hand, upper extremity and limb preservation surgery to community practice at Christian Hospital. Currie leads the charge in ensuring that access to quality reconstructive surgery is available to North St. Louis. She works alongside Sacks and John Felder, MD, in collaboration with Acute and Critical Care Surgery (ACCS) and Vascular Surgery to preserve the limbs of peripheral vascular disease patients, who might otherwise require amputation. Grant Bochiccio, MD, MPH, Chief of ACCS, and John Kirby, MD, provide expertise in wound care, while Patrick Geraghty, MD, J. Westley Ohman, MD, and
Luis Sanchez, MD, Chief of Vascular Surgery, restore circulation to targeted anatomy. This limb preservation program takes a truly coordinated approach rarely seen in treating patients with debilitating conditions such as diabetic foot ulcers.
Amy Kells, MD, PhD, who has extensive training in hand and microsurgery, is expanding access to extremity surgery in community practice at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and Alton Memorial Hospital. Kells brings expertise in clinical care and research on MRI neurography, a developing imaging modality for use in a wide variety of clinical settings of nerve injury and pathology.
Dennis Nguyen, MD, MS, who completed a plastic and reconstructive surgery residency at Washington University, brings his expertise in general adult craniofacial reconstruction. An additional program he is helping develop is facial contouring procedures—part of the division’s gender affirming surgery program, which includes both top and bottom surgery. Partnership between Alison Snyder-Warwick, MD, and urologic surgeon Gino Vricella, MD, expands gender affirming surgery at Washington University to include female-to- male and male-to-female bottom surgery.
The ongoing efforts of the division, as well as the introduction of new faculty and clinical programs, reinforces the vision Sacks has for the future of plastic and reconstructive surgery as a truly head-to-toe surgical specialty.