This year, SIR Today salutes each of the Gold Medalists with a personal look at their outstanding careers. We start with John A. Kaufman, MD, MS, FSIR. Monday’s edition honors Renate L. Soulen, MD, FSIR, and on Tuesday we salute Karim Valji, MD, FSIR. These stories also will be available at sirtoday.org.
A past-president of SIR and former chair of SIR Foundation, Dr. Kaufman now serves as a trustee of the American Board of Radiology (ABR) and president of Vascular and Interventional Advances (VIVA).
He is the Frederick Keller Professor, inaugural chair of the new department of interventional radiology and director of the Dotter Interventional Institute at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland. His research focus has been on vena cava filters and aortic stent grafts.
SIR Today asked Dr. Kaufman to talk about an important person, place and thing that shaped his life and career. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
WHO: Alan Greenfield, MD
Alan Greenfield was the head of interventional radiology during my residency and fellowship at Boston University, Boston City Hospital. His influence on me was both professional and personal. Professionally, if it were not for him I would have never become an IR, and might not have even finished my DR residency. The first day that I rotated on “Special Procedures” as a resident I realized that interventional radiologists provided hands-on, direct patient care and interacted with other clinicians as equals. That literally saved me, because as a resident as I was pretty frustrated with the behind-the-scenes role of diagnostic radiology. Not only was Alan technically gifted, he believed that IRs should be experts in patient care and always approach patients as though they were our own. And he practiced this way in the mid-’80s — a dramatic difference from what I was experiencing in the rest of my diagnostic radiology residency. When he offered me a fellowship at the end of my first rotation, I was already hooked. At the end of my fellowship in 1991, he provided me with the connection to my first job, which I am sure I would never had been able to get without his support.
Alan also taught me that labels in life mean very little, but the quality of the person means everything. Alan lived his life according to his own choices, regardless of convention. More than anyone else, he showed me by example that it’s the inside of a person that matters most.
WHERE: Massachusetts General Hospital Vascular Radiology
This was the job that Alan helped me get right out of fellowship. I spent the first nine years of my career there working in an incredible environment with incredible people; Arthur Waltman, Stuart Geller, Steve Dawson and Peter Mueller. They pretty much shaped my world view of our specialty, my approach to teaching and my sense of obligation to serve. As a BU medical student, resident and fellow, I never considered that I could work at MGH. I used to walk down Fruit Street in the morning just amazed that I worked there. But Arthur and Stuart not only welcomed me, they made me feel part of something really big and special. This was a place where everyone you bumped into had written the key books or articles and were leaders in their subspecialty. And they all seemed to have a device or procedure named after themselves. It was really pretty intimidating; just listening to Arthur and Stuart talk I learned something every day. I still hear Stuart’s voice in my head when I am doing cases.
I had convinced my wife to let me work at MGH for a year, just so I could have the experience before going into private practice in the suburbs. Well, that didn’t work out the way she expected. I stayed on, and MGH became the foundation which allowed me to move to the Dotter Institute in 2000, where I am today. Once again, I was welcomed into a very special place, this time by Fred Keller and Josef Rösch. I get to do procedures in the very same room where Charles Dotter performed the first angioplasty in 1964 and look at Mt. Hood (on clear days) from the windows of the control rooms. And I work with techs and nurses to die for. Fred not only tolerated but supported my many commitments to SIR and then ABR over the years. With our transition to full departmental status in July 2017, I feel that the exciting part is just beginning. If I had left MGH for the suburbs, I doubt that Fred and Josef would have invited me out to Oregon.
WHAT: My daughter, the IR
Up until about three years ago, I’m not sure what I would have said for this part. I have always done things for SIR and our specialty because, according to Arthur Waltman, that’s what we are supposed to do – work to make things better. The results of these efforts can be tangible, but rarely have personal impact. One of my tasks as SIR Education councilor in the early 2000s was to bring VIR fellowships into the NRMP Match. There had been a prior attempt that failed, but over a couple of years we were able to make a successful transition. About a decade later my daughter Claire went through that Match process for her fellowship. When I was working on Match, it never occurred to me that someday she would be in that Match. Now she is a first-year attending and getting ready to examine for the new IR/DR certificate, something else that I have worked pretty hard on. So, it’s all become personal in a nice way, and I am incredibly proud of her.
But what this is really about is investing in the future. We do things for those who will come after us, so that they will have better education, better practice, provide better patient care — and have a stronger specialty. And the really great thing with IR is that the best is yet to come.