Hail to the Chief: Dr. Shipra Arya

Surgical Outcomes Club

September 15, 2022

Dr. Shipra Arya is an Associate Professor of Surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine and section chief of vascular surgery at VA Palo Alto Healthcare System. She started her term as the President of the Surgical Outcomes Club in November 2021. 

Rachel Baker: What is the Surgical Outcomes Club?
Shipra Arya:
Surgical Outcomes Club (SOC) is a group of like-minded surgeons and scientists who do Health Services Research (HSR). The club was started in the late 1990s as a dinner meeting before HSR was a mainstream career path for surgeons. As HSR has grown in popularity, so has the club.

We’re specifically focus on content and programs that will elevate surgical HSR and train the next generation of HSR researchers. We have the Zinner fellowship and a writing series with JAMA Surgery every two years. We put out webinars and content that would be helpful for HSR researchers to think about and stay at the forefront.

The Annual Meeting is always the highlight. We do two panels and solicit nominations for  speakers. We try to pick very state-of-the-art topics that are relevant now and turn them into viewpoint articles for JAMA Surgery. This year’s sessions are on pragmatic trials and shared decision making.


RB: The club is open to surgeons from all specialties?
Yes! All surgical specialties. Anyone who is doing surgical HSR. MDs, PhDs, methodology experts, everyone is welcome.

There are lots of societies that are specialty specific. I went the route of choosing a society where everyone is doing the same type of research. The idea that is working in urology, you think: how could I adapt that to vascular? The core principles that are used for this research are the same and rich discussion—you would never meet these people if you were siloed.


RB: How did you initially become involved? What drew you to them?
It was through the AAS that I heard about them as a fellow. I was going to the fall courses on a Saturday and then I went to the Club on Sunday before clinical congress. I was like: these are my people. I was thinking about how to setup my career as faculty doing HSR research and seeing them gave me hope.

Arden [Morris] was on the board of SOC at the time and faculty at Michigan, where I was a final year fellow. She was very supportive. She subsequently became present of SOC when I took my first faculty role in 2013.

I became a Zinner Fellow in 2014 and was paired with Phil Goodney. Through that mentorship I was able to resubmit and get grants with the American Heart Association and GEMSSTAR. It was a very productive two years and Phil and I continue to collaborate now.


RB: You became president of the club in November 2021. What was your path to leadership like?
If you’re a member and have attended at least one annual meeting, you can nominate yourself for the Board of Directors (BOD). The BOD runs the meeting and creates the new initiatives. The meetings are fun: we’re working on cool, relevant, and applicable topics. If you serve on the BOD, you can then apply for leadership.

To be President, you first serve as secretary for two years and then as president for two years. After being president, you can stay on as ex officio.


RB: We talk a lot about juggling responsibilities. “Surgeon Scientist” is already two jobs and then you add mom, and leader of this association. How do you organize your life and keep all the balls in the air?
I drop a lot of balls, but I forgive myself when I do. I tell myself I’m doing the best that I can and that’s all anyone can do. Make sure that you are prioritizing the important things that add joy and value to your life. The unimportant things? Identify them, delegate them, and take them off your plate if you can. I have politely resigned from committees when I am overextended, and I know I can’t do a good job. Its better for someone else who has the time and passion to have that role for themselves and the organization.

You are not going to be great at all things all the time. Sometimes you’ll be doing great on research and clinical work takes a backseat. Sometimes clinical work will be front and center, and you may have to spend less time on research or with family. And in times of personal crises, it is ok to focus on yourself and your loved ones while other things can wait. Just keep moving everything in the right direction. Inching is fine too.


RB: What advice would you give to a young surgeon scientist who wants to be where you are today?
Some of it is luck—being in the right place at the right time—but a lot of it is also learning to persevere. You have to persist in what you believe in. I hear “no” and take it as “not yet.” Maybe right now isn’t prime time, but I keep some of those ideas on the back burner and bring them back up when the time is right. At the time I was starting my work in frailty, a lot of people didn’t think it had a future or could be intervened on. That’s what’s exciting: that you keep making discoveries and finding a path forward.

Integrity is really important in your research. It has to be novel, and people have to be able to trust your work. Whatever you put out has to have great thought and care; that’s how you build your reputation as a researcher.

It’s easy for young people get confused. Where do I fit in? If you serve in a lot of societies, you may find your effect is diluted. Finding your people is important. You need to get a sense of what is valued. Then give your contribution by signing up for a committee. If you sign up for a responsibility, follow through. That’s how you’ll get more responsibility and move up in the ranks. Don’t spread yourself too thin. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything.