Incoming SIR President Suresh Vedantham, MD, FSIR, is professor of radiology and surgery at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Well-known for his expertise in all aspects of venous disease, Dr. Vedantham serves as the principal investigator of the ATTRACT Trial, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)-sponsored study looking at the best treatments for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (see accompanying story for more about his presentation of the ATTRACT results).
Dr. Vedantham earned his medical degree from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. He did his residency in diagnostic radiology at the UCLA Medical Center and a fellowship in IR at Stanford before joining the Washington University faculty.
Before SIR 2017, SIR Today talked to Dr. Vedantham about the society and IR in general.
How did you become interested in interventional radiology?
I foraged around quite a bit in medical school — I was interested in oncology at first and did quite a bit of cancer research, but clinically I soon learned that I clearly had a surgical mind-set. In 1991 or so, as a third-year medical student, I heard about Dr. Ernie Ring’s performance of the first TIPS procedure. That was exciting — the idea of applying such ingenuity and innovation to address a tough surgical problem so elegantly. Having now learned so much more about what we can do, I can honestly say that there is nothing else in medicine that I’d want to do.
Who mentored you or shaped your career, and how did they do that?
The IR faculty at UCLA (residency), Stanford (IR fellowship) and Mallinckrodt (faculty) can all claim an equal share in shaping my clinical development. Important research mentors who shaped my scientific mind include Drs. Gail Prins (infertility researcher), Haim Gamliel (leukemia researcher) and David Lu (UCLA abdominal radiologist). Inspiration is also important — Drs. Michael Dake (the sense of “can-do”) and Timothy Murphy (“the NIH is not impenetrable”) certainly influenced me. I also gained so much from mentors outside IR. This includes Dr. Clive Kearon, who guided me towards a truer clinical research professionalism, Dr. Samuel Goldhaber and his generous “big-tent” sensibility and Dr. Anthony Comerota on how to collaborate effectively.
Why did you join SIR?
The shared sense of excitement about IR is palpable when you attend an SIR meeting and leads to a strong sense of community. I think that is the single thing that attracted me most.
What motivated you to become more actively involved in the society?
Very early in my career, I was lucky to have the opportunity to see how impactful the society could be. As a resident at UCLA, I was part of Dr. Scott Goodwin’s research team that first started treating uterine fibroid disease. At my first SIR meeting in 1997, the media gave so much attention to this abstract that I was asked to carry a beeper to respond to the “low-level” requests for interviews from local radio stations and the like. So, as a resident, I did a handful of radio interviews while Scott was managing the TV networks. Over the next couple of years, I participated at the fringes as SIR initiated a task force and registry to address this area. With that incredibly closeup look at how a small society became a driving force in pushing forward responsible communications, research and education in a new area that was so important to patients, it wasn’t hard to be motivated!
What aspect of your profession gives you the most satisfaction?
I spend a fair amount of time in my clinic just talking to patients about venous disease. In most cases, even when we don’t wind up doing a procedure, they are very appreciative about learning more about their condition and generally didn’t receive this kind of communication earlier in their care. That is satisfying in itself; when we’re actually able to help them with a procedure, that’s icing on the cake. It has also been immensely satisfying to have the opportunity to lead a number of major multidisciplinary initiatives, including the NIH-sponsored ATTRACT trial — this has led me to places that would have been simply unbelievable to conceive of, working with world-renowned researchers and interacting with senior health officials. These experiences have given me perspectives that I can now use to enhance my contributions to IR and SIR. What an incredible privilege!
How has the profession changed since you started in IR?
I think the clinical commitment of IRs has greatly improved. Most run clinics, and nearly all view themselves as more than just proceduralists. From my interactions with IRs at the various meetings I attend, it seems clear to me that the level of clinical sophistication about disease management has grown rapidly — which is exactly what we need.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing IR today?
Our foremost challenge is facts. We need to rapidly transform our ability to objectively demonstrate the value of IR services to patients, providers, payers, hospitals and health systems. We need to continue to marshal facts into a compelling case for the value of IR services. Nothing will prove better and more patient-centered than IR care that champions patient safety and choice — but we need to prove that by collecting data and using it to tell the story of what we do for patients and health systems.
What are your goals for your forthcoming presidency?
In 2017, SIR will be conducting formal strategic planning to redefine its forward path, and I look forward to guiding that process.
I think helping our membership see how evidence-based medicine can be a potent enabler of the kind of innovative, forward-looking clinical practice that IRs love is one area where I can contribute as a leader. That involves both strategic thinking and operational issues such as how best to ensure that quality research and practice standards are reflected in the resources, tools and education that SIR provides for its members.
Guiding SIR’s response to payment reform (MACRA, etc.) is another priority, as is strengthening our collaborations with other organizations and getting IRs invited to the influential forums where health care decisions are made.
Finally, due largely to the work of SIR, there is tremendous interest from medical students in IR right now — we need to continue working hard to meet the needs of young IRs so that this talent pool becomes a sustainable resource. An important component of attracting the best talent to IR will be to enhance our ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives. We also need to recalibrate our approach to diagnostic radiology and other colleagues to ensure that we are providing the strongest support possible for the various kinds of clinical practice models that are encompassed within our membership.