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Alan A. Thomay, MD

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Board Certification: General Surgery and Complex General Surgical Oncology

Medical School: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Residency: The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

Fellowship:  Fox Chase Cancer Center, Department of Surgical Oncology

Faculty Rank: Assistant Professor

Special Clinical/Research Interests: Complex General Surgical Oncologists treat solid malignancies all over the human body and the variety of operations is both challenging and refreshing on a daily basis. I focus on malignancies of the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas along with melanoma and sarcoma. In addition, part of my practice also involves the care of patients with thyroid or parathyroid disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, adrenal lesions, and procedures designed for cancer diagnosis (e.g. lymph node biopsy for diagnosing lymphoma).

Special Research Interests:  Current research projects include:  clinical outcomes research, cancer health policy, resident and student education, and foregut surgery programmatic development.

Is there a particular population of students (e.g., ethnicity, spiritual, sexual orientation) that you would particularly like to advise?

I can provide broad advice for students interested in a career in general surgery or any of the surgical sub-specialties.  Given my position as Medical Student Surgical Clerkship Director, I am often the first stop for students who express and interest in surgery.  Depending upon student preference, I am comfortable providing advice for any student.  However, through my contacts with a variety of clinical departments, I can also be sure to connect students with any specific mentor they wish.

What does a typical day in the life of a surgical oncologist physician include?

The life of a surgeon is incredibly diverse and always changing.  Most surgeons that perform elective operations will operate two days per week, with two days of clinic hours, and a day for academic or research projects.  However, clinical duties often spill over into other time given call responsibilities and the urgent nature of some surgical diagnoses.  Thus, the typical day of a surgeon can best be described as “organized chaos.”

What is the biggest challenge of being a surgical oncologist physician?

Telling a patient that they have cancer is one of the most difficult aspects of my profession.  However, even more challenging is having to discuss with a patient and their family that they are dying. These are very personal, intense, and emotional conversations that can lead the surgeon to feel emotionally and intellectually drained.  In addition, given the volume of patients and academic responsibilities that most surgeons possess, finding time in the day to balance work and life can be quite difficult.

How do you foresee surgery changing over the next 20 years?

The need for surgeons will only increase as the volume of patients, complexity of their care, and difficulty with access to care increase.  As a profession, we will need to find a way to drastically increase the number of surgeons that we produce each year.  Thus, programs will need to finally address some of the more challenging issues in surgical education, such as: work / life balance; increasing simulation; decreasing the length of training; and improving the overall quality of resident didactic curricula.

What advice would you give a student who is considering an surgical residency?

Find a mentor!  If you are interested in surgery, schedule some time with a surgeon as soon as possible.  The surgeon can help you find time to shadow surgeons in order to gain experience, open up avenues to research projects, and guide you along your training to ensure you are as qualified as possible to gain entry into a surgical residency.  A good mentor will also play the part of a devil’s advocate to ensure that you understand the commitment necessary to become a surgeon.