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Change positions Department of Urologic Surgery for sustained growth

Apr. 5, 2018, 11:35 AM

Beginning July 1, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Urologic Surgery, which is currently housed within the Medical Center’s Section of Surgical Sciences, will become an independent department.

After decades within the Section, the change sets the stage for the department to benefit from its existing infrastructure and capitalize on the potential for growth due to existing strengths such as its size, comprehensive array of adult and pediatric services and strong national reputation.

The department is home to VUMC’s highest ranked adult and pediatric specialty programs as designated by U.S. News & World Report in both of their most recent adult and children’s “Best Hospitals” rankings. Currently, Urology (adult services) is ranked No. 9 while the Division of Pediatric Urology is No. 7.

David Penson, MD, MPH, MMHC

David Penson, MD, MPH, MMHC, the Paul V. Hamilton and Virginia E. Howd Professor of Urologic Oncology, who has led Urologic Surgery since January 2015, will continue to serve as chair of the soon-to-be independent department.

“Repositioning the Department of Urologic Surgery in this manner enables these already outstanding adult and pediatric programs to increase the size and scope of their clinical offerings while also creating new synergies for research and training programs,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“Dr. Penson is an internationally recognized authority in urologic oncology whose leadership skills foster excellence. He encourages his faculty to push boundaries in clinical care and research while they also train future generations of leaders in this complex specialty. We are fortunate David will lead our newly independent department. He has outlined robust goals for its future and I look forward to working with him as we elevate the department to even greater prominence.”

In addition to a decades-long tradition of stellar national rankings for its adult and pediatric services, the department has one of the highest volume surgical practices in the entire country. The department’s 34 faculty are committed to advancing innovative surgical approaches, including robotics, image-guided surgery and minimally invasive approaches. Recently VUMC celebrated the milestone of having surpassed 10,000 robotic-assisted surgical procedures, with the bulk of these being urologic surgeries such as radical prostatectomies.

The department continually seeks out and invests in the most advanced technologies, such as the region’s only 3D MRI prostate biopsy system that enables the most precise biopsies and facilitates personalized treatment plans. With one of the nation’s largest training programs, the department includes 27 urological surgery residents and fellows.

Caring for children from across the country, the Division of Pediatric Urologic Surgery performs more than 2,200 surgeries every year at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, including innovative robotic surgeries and complex urologic reconstructions. And through the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and VUMC’s partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, residents receive unique training opportunities while serving a more diverse group of patients.

The department’s expansive research endeavors include seeking answers to causes in therapeutic failures for benign and cancerous prostate disease, evaluating both the comparative effectiveness and harm resulting from different management strategies for prostate cancer and identifying patient-specific factors that mediate the effectiveness or side effects of different treatments.

The department’s health services research includes characterizing the downstream effects of prostate cancer treatments and outcomes associated with genitourinary malignancies, and pediatric research in collaboration with other departments that seeks to identify causes for abnormal development of the kidney and urinary tract.

A key philanthropic mission of the department is to help establish surgical training programs in developing countries. These programs are led by Joseph A. Smith Jr., MD, professor of Urologic Surgery, but are a department-wide effort. The department’s surgeons have worked with local doctors in more than a dozen African nations. Current efforts are focused on developing training programs in Malawi and Zambia as well as Liberia and continuing to provide surgical expertise in Eastern Congo.

“The Department of Urologic Surgery continues to be a nationally recognized and sought after destination for patients of all genders requiring complex urologic surgical interventions. By repositioning the department in this manner, we have the potential to grow and strengthen programs in clinical care, training and research that will benefit patients everywhere,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “Dr. Penson is a strong and collaborative leader who is focused on increasing our capacity to bring the most advanced and highest quality services to our patients.”

Recruited to VUMC in 2009, Penson, who is also professor of Urologic Surgery, Medicine and Health Policy, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from Boston University. He received his residency training at the University of California, Los Angeles, and underwent fellowship training at Yale. He served as a member of the faculty at the University of Washington and the University of Southern California before joining Vanderbilt.

Penson serves as director of the Vanderbilt Center for Surgical Quality and Outcomes Research, a collaboration between 11 different surgical and non-surgical Vanderbilt departments, and is also associate editor for The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a high-impact journal internationally recognized for its up-to-date news and information from the fields of cancer research and treatment.

“I am really pleased about this unique and exciting opportunity,” Penson said. “It’s been a real honor to lead a great group of faculty and staff in the Department of Urologic Surgery for the past three years. I know that now that the Department is becoming independent, all of us are looking forward to taking urology at Vanderbilt to the next level. The future is really bright.”

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