Hail to the Chief: Dr. Geoffrey Gurtner

Wound Healing Society

July 27, 2020

This article is part of a series of interviews with Stanford Surgery faculty who were, are, or will be presidents of surgical societies. Dr. Geoffrey Gurtner is Vice Chair of Innovation at Stanford Surgery and the current President of the Wound Healing Society (WHS).

Rachel Baker: Why wound care?

Geoffrey Gurtner: It’s a part of plastic surgery but different than many of the things we do. It’s less glamorous but potentially more rewarding to be part of a field where there is an enormous potential to make advancements that are more cost-effective and save patient’s lives. It’s a very exciting field for me.

RB: How did you become President? Are you elected by the members? Do you campaign?

GG: I’ve been involved in the WHS for about 20 years. It’s the largest organization for both clinicians and researchers who are interested in wound healing. it’s a very heterogenous group: there are general surgeons, vascular surgeons, plastic surgeons, nurses, podiatrists. It’s a multidisciplinary melting pot of about 1400 people

I was surprised to be elected, to be honest. I hadn’t done any lobbying or a lot of committee work for WHS. Someone said they wanted to nominate me, and I thought “well, that won’t happen.” I guess more people knew who I was than I thought they did.

It is quite a big commitment, more than I thought. You spend a year as vice present and then president-elect before you ascend to president, so you definitely get to know the inner workings of the society.

And, because of the pandemic, our meeting was cancelled so they asked me to stay on for another year. It would have been chaos otherwise.

We’re going to do a virtual meeting in July because we have a bunch of young investigators who will have gone on to other things by next year. That had to be thrown together. The main sources of our revenue are our meeting and membership dues, but we’re doing okay financially.

RB: What do you hope to accomplish during your term?

GG: We have our own Journal (Wound Repair and Regeneration), and we spent the last year revamping it. It had become stale and  not the destination journal it once was. We re-did the whole editorial structure, brought in more editors. That was a big effort. We were going to launch it at the May meeting, and now we’re trying to figure out how to get the word out.

We have a separate philanthropic arm – they were kind of drifting apart. It didn’t make sense to have them apart. We were able to combine the two entities, which I think will be more efficient for everyone.

Finally, we’re lobbying NIH for a standalone study section on “wounds, burns and scarring.” This has required meeting with a lot of the Institute directors at NIH. I kind of feel like there’s no point in doing this unless you’re going to make a change, make an improvement. I’ve never wanted to be president of something just to say that I was.

Certainly, now that I have two years, it may be possible to get all these things done.

RB: How has the Wound Care Society responded to the BLM movement?

GG: It’s a subject that’s important to those of us who work in wound healing because these diseases are the result of chronic illnesses and neglect, and disproportionately affect people of lower socio-economic status and people of color.

I direct the Stanford Advanced Wound Care center (AWCC) at Redwood City, and it’s a very different patient population than I see at my plastic surgery clinic on Welch Road. They come from the central valley, east bay and Oakland, all over because they don’t have access to wound care in their own communities. Sometimes these patients have had the same wound for many years, and it has prevented them from holding a job or going to school.

I have many patients who are at the forefront of the BLM movement in the Bay Area, and I feel like our particular specialty is trying to figure out how we can do more. We’ve done a lot of research to understand health care disparities in these populations and how we can correct them. We have done continuous outreach to determine how we can provide access to the highest quality of care for any patient in the Bay Area. It’s an ongoing project.

RB: What advice would you give today’s residents in terms of joining a society?

GG: It’s an interesting question, because I don’t know what the role will be after COVID. One of the main things we did was host the annual meetings. There were breakfasts and networking opportunities and exhibit halls. What we’ve found is when you get rid of the hoopla there is still the core mission of advancing the care of your patients.

When WHS goes to Washington D.C. and we petition, we have a lot more ability to potentially have an impact and potentially change things than as a single surgeon or investigator. I think societies will always be important if you want to impact the field more broadly than just help a single patient at a time.