April 9, 2015

SOCKs a great fit for Children’s Hospital surgeon-scientists

After 10 years working together, Chevis Shannon, MBA, MPH, Dr.PH, and John “Jay” Wellons III, M.D., MSPH, can practically finish each other’s sentences and help fuel one another’s academic ideas.

After 10 years working together, Chevis Shannon, MBA, MPH, Dr.PH, and John “Jay” Wellons III, M.D., MSPH, can practically finish each other’s sentences and help fuel one another’s academic ideas.

Shannon, research assistant professor in Neurological Surgery, and Wellons, chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, have transferred that collaborative spirit and enthusiasm from their work into a new program that elevates various research efforts by surgeon-scientists at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Chevis Shannon, MBA, MPH, Dr.PH

The Surgical Outcomes Center for Kids, or SOCKs, facilitates collaborative research endeavors across multiple surgical disciplines at Children’s Hospital. Essentially, SOCKs acts as a research clearinghouse for surgeon-scientists, a place for them to hone their research interests and bring them to fruition — from hypothesis generation all the way to journal publication.

The results of the research conducted will ultimately inform clinical decision making and improve the overall health of the children treated at the hospital.

More than 40 clinical outcomes studies are ongoing because of SOCKs, including long-term urologic function in spina bifida patients; tracking outcomes in children with complex cardiac defects requiring surgical correction; traumatic brain injury protocol-building; maximizing quality of life in children with Chiari-related disorders and hydrocephalus; hernia repair in neonates; and developmental outcomes of premature infants and patients with brain tumors, among others.

John “Jay” Wellons III, M.D., MSPH

“We felt our surgeon-scientists across many subspecialties wanted to be more academic but they were so busy clinically they didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do that. SOCKs is the vehicle that gives them that opportunity,” said Shannon, center director for SOCKs.
Wellons serves as the medical director of the SOCKs team.

“The physicians involved can take care of patients on a day-to-day basis and continue to provide quality care,” Wellons said. “But what this allows is for those people to also look at much bigger pictures and ask: how we can move the dial on not only an individual patient’s disease but the overall disease process; what can we learn from our experience; how can we make their care better and how can we make their outcomes better?”

Shannon, Wellons, Amita Bey, MPH, program director, and a research team across disciplines meet with the surgeons to understand their interests, find out what outcomes research might be possible and help create a framework and guidepost for that work to happen.

Each discipline has a dedicated person, called a research extender, who is “embedded” in the physicians’ daily clinical activities to flesh out research hypotheses and help evaluate short- and long-term health outcomes in patients.

Each extender benefits from the collective institutional experience of the group and is cross-trained in relevant areas for study completion.

“A lot of times our physician-scientists have clinical interests and hypotheses but aren’t always sure how to turn those aims into a study,” Shannon said.

“We’ll dial in to their goals and research interests, go to case conferences, the OR, clinic, do rounds, read reports…Sometimes what is holding up the work is more than time, and SOCKs has the infrastructure necessary to vet those issues and move the work forward.”

Among the many pediatric disciplines involved so far are Neurosurgery, Cardiac Surgery, Urologic Surgery and General/Thoracic Surgery. Otolaryngology and Orthopaedics are set to formally integrate within SOCKs soon.

“Jay and Chevis have a long, proven history working together to produce a real collaborative atmosphere across disciplines,” said John W. Brock III, M.D., surgeon-in-chief, director of the Division of Urology and Monroe Carell Jr. Professor.

“This research program will not only allow surgeons to elevate their work academically, but also elevate Vanderbilt nationally and internationally as a leader in surgical outcomes research. That all translates into even better care and quality of life for the children we see every day.”