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North Hills Monthly

Multigenerational Approach Key to Expansion of UPMC General Surgery Program

Nov 01, 2016 06:56AM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Over the past two decades, UPMC has become known worldwide for its expertise in clinical care, research and teaching, and for building a system of health care excellence in Pittsburgh, western Pennsylvania, and even internationally. One of the most compelling reasons for its success is its people—from the senior physicians who years ago created clinical and academic programs that still exist today, to the young medical professionals who bring new ideas and energy into this ever-evolving continuum of care.

Kevin O. Garrett, MD, is a prime example of a physician who has contributed to UPMC’s growth, having spent more than 33 years with the University of Pittsburgh and its affiliated hospital system. “I started with UPMC before it was even UPMC,” laughs Dr. Garrett, who attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine from 1983-87, and later did his residency at the Hospitals of the University Health System of Pittsburgh, which would later become UPMC.

After his residency in 1995, Dr. Garrett began working as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Presbyterian University Hospital, Montefiore Hospital, and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Oakland, and in early 1996, took a position at UPMC Saint Margaret to help grow the hospital’s general surgery training program in partnership with the Department of Surgery of the University of Pittsburgh. At the time, UPMC Saint Margaret had a renowned training program in family practice and hosted several affiliated fellowships and residencies, and had long been a sister training program to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

At UPMC St. Margaret, Dr. Garrett worked with Drs. David Connelly, Anthony Harrison, Sally Carty, Kenneth Lee, and later, Dr. Nagamalli Ramakrishna. “I have had the help of excellent partners and the guidance of trusted mentors along the way,” Dr. Garrett says, adding that he has always believed that learning is multidirectional. In 1998, he was joined by Christopher Bartels, MD, who shared a passion for training young people in surgery. 

After 18 years at UPMC Saint Margaret, Dr. Garrett joined the UPMC Passavant staff in 2014. “It was very exciting to help develop the general surgery training program for the university at UPMC Saint Margaret, and now I am excited to be doing the same at UPMC Passavant,” he says. 

AT UPMC Passavant, Dr. Garrett is working with veteran general surgeon and teacher Randall Draper, MD, and Marc Brozovich, MD, who has advanced experience in colorectal surgery.

“I’m pleased that the hospital has provided another environment for students and residents to learn within the outstanding clinical programs that they offer,” says Dr. Garrett. In fact, Sean Whelan, MD, one of the residents who trained in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Surgery under Dr. Garrett and his partners, recently joined the UPMC St. Margaret staff where he will continue this teaching tradition alongside Drs. Sharon Goldstein, LeeAnn Peluso, and Rebecca Edmonds.

“Sean finished his residency a year ago and went to work as a general surgeon northeast of Pittsburgh, but he’s always had his heart in the residency training program,” says Dr. Garrett. “Though he enjoyed the challenge of starting a practice and becoming independent clinically, I think he missed the challenge of helping to train residents to become surgeons.”

“It is a dream job for me, and a truly great opportunity,” says Dr. Whelan, who will serve as one of four partners in a general surgery practice at UPMC St. Margaret. “I was very proud to have participated in one of the top general surgery residencies in the country, and was really inspired by the relationships I developed with the program director and the surgeons who became my mentors.”

In his new role, Dr. Whelan will be teaching medical students and residents in the classroom, medical wards and operating rooms as an assistant professor, and also developing a service line/partnership with UPMC Passavant as a way for surgeons to share their ideas and expertise, as well as provide coverage between the two hospital systems.

“I’m excited to be at a teaching hospital because I enjoy working with residents and students,” says Dr. Whelan, who is originally from South Carolina and attended medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “I’m happy to be at UPMC St. Margaret in particular, because it is essentially a community hospital with all of the support and capabilities of a major university. That enables it to support a very broad general surgery practice.”

Training Future Surgeons

As the site of a renowned family practice program and a highly respected general surgery work force, UPMC St. Margaret was the perfect place to introduce a general surgery training program, according to Dr. Garrett. “UPMC St. Margaret provided a great environment for surgical residents to work with family practice residents—to get to know the people who might later become their referring doctors,” he explains. “It also provides quite a different experience than they can find on their ‘home turf’ university training programs at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy.” 

Medical students and residents rotate through the UPMC system, spending between eight weeks and three months at different hospitals, depending on where they are in their training. “I think what I liked best during my rotations at UPMC St. Margaret was working in a family medicine-run hospital,” says Sara Myers, a third-year resident. “It was interesting to learn how community physicians view surgeons and surgical issues, and it gave me insight into what a patient going to a primary care physician needs.

“We also got the opportunity to work not only with general surgeons, but vascular and thoracic surgeons as well,” she adds. “There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on between physicians at a community hospital, and I felt like I got a good grasp of the different surgical subspecialties that might not be as front-and-center at larger institutions.”

Medical students and residents are getting the same opportunity in UPMC Passavant’s general surgery training program, which has been offering student rotations for the past two years. UPMC St. Margaret introduced rotations for UPMC residents in 1995 and for University of Pittsburgh medical students in 1997. 

“Just like at UPMC St. Margaret, the folks at UPMC Passavant are welcoming the approximately 20 medical students and 30 residents that rotate through in an average year,” says Dr. Garrett. “UPMC Passavant has always been a very strong clinical hospital delivering high-quality clinical care, but its president, David Martin, is now expanding the university’s presence there with fellows, residents and medical students, and the staff is embracing this training mission.”

Patients benefit as well from this influx of future doctors. “Training programs attract physicians that are as committed to teaching the next generation as they are to taking care of patients,” says Dr. Garrett, adding that studies have shown that patient outcomes are better in training facilities. “Students and residents keep you at the top of your game, and circulate new information and new ideas that can benefit patient care.” 

Christopher David, a third-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh, appreciates the knowledge that he’s gained through his rotation at UPMC Passavant, as well as the one-on-one mentoring that working with UPMC surgeons provides. 

“Surgeons in general are well-known for working really hard and having intense schedules, and making time to teach medical students can be a struggle,” he explains. “But I’ve been really surprised by how much time Dr. Garrett has invested in teaching medical students and going over the material with us; he approaches his teaching role with great care and attention.”

Though each hospital and each culture is unique, Mr. David says that his time at UPMC Passavant has opened his eyes to the benefits of a community-oriented hospital. “You get the best of both worlds,” he explains. “Physicians can take a more intimate approach to care, which they might not have as much time for at a larger tertiary facility, but still retain access to the top-notch academia and expertise of the whole UPMC system. It was neat to see a hospital care model that was a little different than what you see on the Oakland campus.”

“In a health system as diverse and sophisticated as UPMC, both UPMC St. Margaret and UPMC Passavant offer an environment where students and residents can be really involved and engaged in the care of patients. It’s a very favorable learning environment”, said Kevin O. Garrett, MD.

Both hospitals also provide a favorable environment for patients who require surgery services in areas including thoracic surgery, cardiac surgery, colorectal surgery, surgical oncology, hepatobiliary surgery, urology, plastic surgery, gynecological surgery, and more. 

“We treat patients with everything from gallstones, hernias, and skin and soft tissue injuries to more complex clinical conditions,” explains Dr. Whelan. “UPMC in general is one of the best university systems in the country and the world, so patients here have access to experts from all surgical fields; the support is unparalleled.”

For more information on general surgical services at UPMC, visit or call 1-866-629-8077.

This advertorial has been provided by UPMC.