About the Lifetime Achievement Award
The Society of University Surgeons (SUS) has awarded the 2022 SUS Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeffrey Banks Matthews, MD, FACS, the Dallas B. Phemister Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery, Chair of the Department of Surgery, and Surgeon-in-Chief at The University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Matthews will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at the 18th Annual Academic Surgical Congress (ASC) in Houston, Texas.
The Society of University Surgeons initiated the Lifetime Achievement Award (LTAA) in 2005. This award was designed to recognize individuals who have had a sustained career in academic surgery with contributions to surgical science. In addition, these individuals have demonstrated a commitment to the Society of University Surgeons, whereby they have participated in the Society even after superannuating to Senior Membership status. Their participation in the Society is evidenced by the attendance of the meetings yearly and active participation in discussion of papers, attendance of the banquets, society functions, and mentoring the next generation of leaders in the society.
The Society of University Surgeons seeks to honor and recognize these individuals because of their embodiment of the principles of the Society. We seek to recognize these individuals to establish role models for younger generations of surgeons to honor and emulate their contributions to the science of surgery, and moreover to the Society of University Surgeons.
Dr. Matthews was nominated and selected by his peers based on his leadership and contributions to academic surgery, as well as his strong support of the SUS. He had many years of service to the SUS and served on both the Strategic Planning and Social and Legislative Issues Committees before election to Treasurer, President-Elect and then President. He remains an active senior member, recognized as a regular and engaged participant in SUS activities and the annual Academic Surgical Congress. Notably, his active involvement on the SUS Foundation Board strongly demonstrates his continued commitment to the mission of the SUS. In addition to his many accomplishments as a surgeon-scientist, his care, kindness and principled approach to leadership are exemplary. Dr. Matthews has been an indefatigable champion of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice over the course of his career in academic surgery. He has led a transformation of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago in the recruitment, retention and promotion of women, underrepresented minorities, and other historically excluded individuals as trainees, faculty, and departmental leaders. As such, the SUS wishes to recognize his immense contributions to the field of academic surgery with the 2022 LTAA.
Art History, Science and Surgery
Jeffrey Banks Matthews was born in New Rochelle, NY and was raised in nearby Scarsdale where he attended the public school system. He was the middle child of 3, a good all-around student (particularly in science) who developed many “quirky” interests outside of his schoolwork including chess, rock music, and film comedy. Dr. Matthews is 3rd generation in medicine, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion that he would follow suit. As Dr. Matthews put it, he became a surgeon “because he wasn’t very good at math.” As a freshman at Harvard College, he wanted to major in Physics but then struggled to keep up with the abstract theoretical work in the field (years later, he felt vindicated when someone from those freshman science classes went on to win the Nobel Prize!). Looking for a different path, he took the advice of the biggest role model in his life, Dr. Benjamin Banks, his grandfather, the family patriarch and an “old timey” internist and gastroenterologist in Boston. His grandfather suggested that he contact Dr. William Silen, Chief of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), who his grandfather described as the smartest guy in the hospital. Dr. Silen offered him a summer position in his lab. Dr. Matthews stated “I went into academic surgery to be like Dr. Silen.” Still, a career in medicine wasn’t a done deal. He minored in art history, loved courses in the visual arts and poetry, and even considered pursuing graduate studies in art. But his love for research and his admiration for the surgeons he encountered in Dr. Silen’s lab won the day. Dr. Matthews stayed on for medical school at Harvard and surgical residency at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, becoming the third generation in his family to train at that institution, after his grandfather and his uncle Dr. Peter Banks (Figure 1).
Interested in the Challenge
Dr. Matthews wanted to pursue a career in gastrointestinal surgery, and what seemed new and challenging at the time was the emerging subspecialty of hepatobiliary and pancreatic (HPB) surgery. Dr. Silen arranged a fellowship year abroad for Dr. Matthews with Professor Leslie Blumgart, who became his next great surgical mentor. Prof. Blumgart, one of the pioneers of liver surgery, was at the time the Chair of Surgery at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Dr. Matthews returned to the United States and eventually joined the faculty at the Beth Israel (later the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, BIDMC) as a general surgeon who did everything from GI to breast, and even trauma. He became increasingly focused on the pancreas in parallel with the success of the interventional GI team at the BIDMC. He explained, “I sort of fell into an amazing practice of HPB surgery.”. He didn’t completely narrow his practice exclusively to GI and HPB surgery until he left BIDMC to take a new position as Christian R. Holmes Professor and Chair of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati in 2001. There was a burgeoning program in islet autotransplantation in Cincinnati, and his interest in surgical treatment of chronic pancreatitis deepened. Dr. Matthews is now one of only a handful of surgeons in the nation with deep expertise in the management of acute and chronic pancreatitis including islet autotransplantation. He enjoys the challenge of taking care of patients suffering from complex benign and malignant pancreatic disorders.
Surgical and Scientific Circles
From undergrad and medical school at Harvard, to surgical residency at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, to HPB fellowship at the University of Bern and then a research fellowship at Brigham and Women’s, Dr. Matthews was lucky to learn through great mentors and role models (Figure 2). Dr. William Silen, who passed away in September 2022, was a towering figure of American surgery and a brilliant surgeon-scientist. Dr. Matthews described Dr. Silen as an exceptional investigator who was widely respected in scientific circles beyond surgery. Professor Blumgart was a surgical pioneer who was fearless, charismatic, bold, brash and a joy to be around. Dr. Matthews explained that “Professor Blumgart had a story for everything, he took great care of us, and there was always something exciting going on around him. He was an innovative and boundary-pushing clinician whose passion for the OR and for training his fellows was infectious.” Professor Blumgart, who also passed away in September, “was very kind and supportive to me over a long period of time.” Dr. Matthews’ main scientific mentor was Dr. James Madara, a pathologist at Brigham& Women’s Hospital who he first encountered as a medical student. Dr. Matthews was “attracted to his intellect, his way of breaking down complicated problems and framing them in a compelling way that really inspired you to dig in.” When he finished his training and started on faculty, Dr. Matthews spent half of his time in the Madara lab learning techniques of cell culture and advanced electrophysiology. Dr. Madara was his mentor on his first NIH grant which involved investigations into the cell biological mechanisms of regulation of epithelial chloride transport and barrier function. Dr. Madara introduced him to a much broader scientific community than he might otherwise have encountered. Dr. Matthews learned the importance of academic interactions and collaborations beyond surgical circles. Dr. Madara later became Chair of Pathology at Emory, and, later, the Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago. Dr. Matthews reunited with Dr. Madara when he became the Chair of Surgery at the University of Chicago until he later became Executive Director of the AMA.
Dr. Matthews ran a federally funded lab for two decades. His advice for those currently pursuing basic and translational investigation funding is to leverage the research strengths at your home institution through collaboration outside of a surgical department. To sustain funding over the long haul, he stressed the importance of continual learning and keeping scientific collaborations fresh. He personally found it invigorating to attend and present at basic science meetings. He felt that his ideas were more effectively “pressure tested” in non-surgical settings, and better aligned with emerging thinking in other disciplines. It was important to widen his circle of colleagues and collaborators to avoid the trap of scientific inbreeding that can come if surgeon-scientists talk only among themselves. In Dr. Matthews’ example, he developed a collegiality with cell biologists and physiologists that was particularly beneficial; he gained valuable perspective and constructive feedback on his own projects while he could share his knowledge of clinical relevance to human disease. These interactions led to positions on multiple editorial boards (such as Gastroenterology, and the American Journal of Physiology) and NIH/VA grant review committees.
Bring People Along and Connect Them
In Surgery these days, the importance of mentorship, allyship and sponsorship is widely and explicitly discussed as critical to leadership development. Dr. Matthews explained that when he was coming up, these concepts were not really top of mind. There wasn’t a formula to follow or formal leadership training except to perform good research, write and talk about it, and to do whatever your department chair told you was important. From his perspective, “I think my attitude was respect for institutions and respect for leaders and traditional hierarchies.” As he took on these roles, he tried to remain very approachable and to interact in a supportive way whether someone was up, down, or across the organization, realizing that “wherever a person sits within the hierarchy, they were a unique human with the same emotions, egos, and insecurities as me. I tried to be as authentic as I could be.” Fortunately, breaking down the barriers of communication came naturally to Dr. Matthews. He believed early on in flattening hierarchies and demystifying these roles. Dr. Matthews stated that “I never wanted to project an illusion that I was the greatest scientist or the greatest surgeon, or that I knew everything about how to lead a department or an organization. I thought I had good emotional intelligence, that I was a good listener and could find common purpose with most. I did want to be credible enough in everything I did that I could legitimately ‘sit at the table’. Being respected but more importantly showing respect for others. I wanted to be able to effectively represent clinicians, scientists, and other stakeholders in those settings. I guess I was a ‘connecter’. I also see humor in a lot of things and think it’s is a great leveler (everybody loves a dad joke and groans at a good pun). I try to live in the real world, keeping up with news, politics, sports, and popular culture. I’ve always had broad interests in a lot of different areas and I like to be around people who bring their authentic selves and are not too stiff or narrowly focused.”
Careers are Not Ladders, They are Trees
Academic surgeons face many career challenges along the path to promotion and leadership. The advice that Dr. Matthews would give is to be patient and to be willing to put in the work. He describes himself as having had “ants in his pants” early on but realized that what got him noticed was his reliability: showing up, doing more than what was asked, and doing it on time. His felt that “delivering results, being reliable and accountable, is the surest way to move up. Build from ‘small wins’. I think success begets success. Whether it’s agreeing to write that chapter, to review that manuscript, or to sit on that committee, and then making it a priority, you will get noticed and that will turn into the next opportunity. You’re more likely to get the next grant if you deliver results from the first grant. ” Dr. Matthews conceded that academic surgeons can feel pulled in too many directions and that’s there’s always a point where one needs to say No, but he stresses that this should come after saying Yes a lot. Dr. Matthews felt that in his day, he was aware of only one pathway to success in academic surgery and that was to become a Department Chair. He became a surgeon-scientist to follow his role model Dr. Silen, at one level because he thought that was just what you were supposed to do. Fortunately, it turned out that the administrative elements of departmental leadership were a good fit for him, and he was effective across the tripartite mission. But he also realized there were other exciting career paths for professional growth and success depending on an individual’s unique combination of skills and attributes. In this sense, he advises the early career surgeon to “know yourself. There are many exciting pathways to leadership and success beyond being a Department Chair. Maybe you have a singular talent for invention and discovery. Great! Dig in, grow your portfolio, and maybe this will lead to departmental vice-chair, institute, or industry roles. Or start a company with the intellectual property you develop. If patient care and the OR are your passions, you might find a path in the quality space, or in perioperative, medical staff, service line, or hospital leadership. Success as an educator may turn into program or clerkship director opportunities, or institutional leadership roles.” Dr. Matthews is fond of saying “careers are not ladders; they are trees.”
One thing to remember is that effective leadership means effectively managing relationships, especially within a complexly matrixed organization like an academic medical center. Command-and-control authority is largely a thing of the past; the modern leader grows through influence and trust. “Post-COVID, I find that relationship-building, empowerment, active listening, and building a diverse and inclusive work environment are more important than ever.” Dr. Matthews observed that “leadership is messy. Running a department is messy. Change takes time; perfect is the enemy of good. Aspiring leaders should be aware of the dynamics across the tripartite mission and the unresolvable, opposing tensions that always exist. It’s about finding balance among competing demands, seeing the tradeoffs, and making the best decision even if it’s not perfect. A favorite quote by Groucho Marx is ‘Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.’ You need a willingness to be flexible. In a limited resource environment, you’re always making hard choices. What to start doing, what to stop doing. Not every great idea can be supported. There will be many requests for investment, for personnel, or for space. Taken on the individual merits, each may seem justified but collectively they may be unaffordable. One needs to understand the balancing act.”
Start with Small Steps
Dr. Matthews has been President of the SUS, SSAT, and the Society of Surgical Chairs, a Board Member of the SUS Foundation, a Senior Director of the American Board of Surgery, Chair of the Review Committee for Surgery of the ACGME, and Editor-in Chief of the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery. In order to be successful in organizations outside of one’s own institution, Dr. Matthews believes in small steps and focusing first on creating a portfolio of meaningful accomplishments. It’s important to “go deep” in something. Real scholarship is what gets you noticed outside your home institution. Dr. Matthews recommended that “new faculty prioritize involvement in a limited number of professional societies (ideally including a multispecialty “generalist” academic organization like the AAS and SUS). Present your best work regularly, stay for the whole session, and be engaged in the discussions and other activities. It is difficult to make a lasting impression if your attendance and participation is spotty, or too diffuse. There is no shortcut to developing that credibility as an expert in your own right. A journal editor is more likely to ask you to review manuscripts if you yourself have published your own good stuff. A position on an editorial board won’t come without a track record of reliability in accepting invitations and then delivering thoughtful reviews on time. A society officer is more likely to tap you to join a committee if you show up to the annual meeting. Introduce yourself and be social, especially to those at a similar career stage. This is how you begin to create your network. A bit of ‘schmoozing’ is advisable, but that may not come naturally to everybody. It helps to have mentors and sponsors who can introduce you around to the leadership.” For Dr. Matthews, he focused on the AAS and the SUS, and the SSAT.
Dr. Matthews knows the restlessness that many mid-career academic surgeons feel as they try to figure out what’s next, whether to stay and grow at their own institution or whether to look around for other opportunities. Dr. Matthews encourages patience: “be comfortable in the success you are having right now, and realize there’s a reason for it. The grass isn’t necessarily greener in other pastures. It’s often underestimated how disruptive a lateral career move can be. I don’t think there’s one single formula. Everyone’s situation is different. Sometimes there are partners and families involved. Be careful! I’m fond of saying (but I’m sure I lifted it from someone) ‘If you want to be a household name, the best place to start is in your own household.’”
The Friendships and the Professional Relationships
Academic Surgical Congress is a highlight of every academic year. During Dr. Matthews’ tenure on the SUS Executive Council, he was part of the task force that planned for the first combined meeting of the SUS and AAS. Those were exciting and challenging times. Both organizations were struggling to maintain energy and they saw an opportunity to create a more cohesive academic community for young and mid-career faculty. There were misgivings and uncertainties. But ASC has succeeded beyond all their goals. Its growth has been extraordinary. The first SUS meeting Dr. Matthews attended had only 40 oral presentations on the program (no posters or “Quick Shots”), and he was proud to be selected as one. He remembers standing up at the podium feeling somewhat intimidated by the audience of distinguished surgeon-scientists. He was anxious, then relieved to be asked a question by Dr. Courtney Townsend that he could actually answer. Now there are hundreds of presentations, and attendance is 4 or 5 times historical levels. Dr. Matthews said “the most gratifying thing looking back over 30-plus years in academic surgery is the friendships and the professional relationships I formed along the way. I feel like I know someone in virtually every academic department in the country. Those connections started with the AAS and the SUS, and continued in the ASC. I hope that will remain true for young surgeons coming up today in this post-COVID era of hybrid meetings and Zooms.”
Because of his positive experiences in academic surgery, Dr. Matthews and his wife Dr. Joan Matthews have consistently directed their philanthropic giving towards surgical societies including the SUS. Recently, they endowed the Joan and Jeffrey Matthews Developing Leaders Program in the SSAT which is a two-year program promoting the career of a promising individual from a background that is relatively underrepresented in academic surgery.
A Rock and Roller at Heart
When asked if there was anything that people may not know about him that would surprise them, Dr. Matthews laughed, “I am pretty active on social media so people probably know too much about me already. Some may not know that I’ve been obsessed with rock music since I was a kid. I’m like what one music writer termed the ‘drooling fanatic’, obsessed with both popular and obscure music and historical minutia about my favorite bands, songwriters, and their songs and records. I’m an avid vinyl collector and frequent concertgoer (I proudly boast that I’m probably the oldest attendee at Lollapalooza). I was a radio deejay in college, I play guitar and now collect them too. I’ve played in bands since my teen years. These days I write and record original tunes with some amazing professionals (Figure 3). You can hear my stuff under “Jeff Matthews” on any of your favorite streaming services. Please ‘favorite’ me, download, and stream (I get 0.01 cent per play). It’s great on any OR playlist!“
Dr. Matthews thanks his family for their unwavering support (Figure 4). His wife of 31 years, Dr. Joan Matthews, a retired anesthesia intensivist, is a talented chef and baker who plays bass guitar and helps manage her family’s real estate business. Together, Joan and Jeff have 3 boys (plus their mini-poodle Archie). Their eldest son, Jonathan, is completing his MD-PhD at the University of Chicago, where his wife Dr. Hannah Matthews is a medical resident. David, a talented rock drummer, is currently a grad student in Astrophysics at Cal Berkeley. Their youngest, Adam, shares a love of the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls with his dad and is adding an MBA from Loyola University to his previous master’s degree in real estate.
The Society of University Surgeons is honored to present Dr. Jeffrey Matthews with the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Academic Surgical Congress on February 7, 2023, taking place in Houston, Texas.