The Surgeon Informatician: Both Surgeon Scientist and Surgeon Advocate

27 Feb 2019

by Jane Zhao, MD, MS

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of informatics to surgeons. Shortly afterward, David Schneider wrote a similar article on the AAS blog describing clinical informatics. We had both independently chosen to take the path less traveled by pursuing postdoctoral training in clinical informatics, found ourselves highly grateful for the decision we had made, and wanted our colleagues in both informatics and surgery to understand why in our humblest of opinions the two should not be mutually exclusive.

Clinical informatics has been around for quite some time, as early embracers Genevieve Melton-Meaux and Gretchen Purcell Jackson, can attest to. The relatively recent and sharp rise of big data and artificial intelligence in healthcare has led to a critical mass of interest in clinical informatics; increasing numbers of health care institutions employ chief health information officers and physician champions of the electronic health record, and more and more physicians are exiting academia and private practice for industry.

When the applications opened for hot topic proposals for the 14th Annual Academic Surgical Congress recently held in Houston, TX, I knew this was my moment to share my passion for clinical informatics with my surgical colleagues. Out of over 90 applications, mine titled “The Surgeon Informatician: Both Surgeon Scientist and Surgeon Advocate” was ultimately selected as a finalist. On the day of the hot topic, the ballroom was packed. Clearly there was interest in this topic from all levels of the surgical community.

David Schneider began the panel discussion and introduced clinical informatics to the audience. Raquel Forsythe followed and explained the various pathways to becoming a surgeon informatician and highlighted the benefits and caveats of each pathway for surgical trainees. Gretchen Purcell Jackson spoke about her career as an academic informatician and her transition to industry. Alexander Langerman spoke about the role of informatics in the design and transformation of operating rooms into more patient- and surgeon-friendly working environments. Lastly, Genevieve Melton-Meaux spoke about her role as a chief data and health informatics officer and how she on a daily basis leverage health informatics to improve care.

The common thread in all the talks was that informatics opportunities are vast, with the potential to make a large impact on patient care. We live in an exciting yet confusing era of training and practice, and there is a real need for more surgeon informaticians to help us shift through all the data, figure out what is real versus what is #fakenews, navigate our relationship with industry, make empowered decisions when it comes to our different information systems and technologies, and at a higher level, drive policy changes. There is no better time than the present for surgeons to become involved in informatics.


Jane Zhao, MD, MS is a general surgery resident at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She received her medical degree from McGovern Medical School, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University. She was the founder and chair of the AWS Blog Subcommittee from 2013 to 2014 and a founding member of the AWS Social Media Subcommittee in 2013. She currently serves as the Resident and Associate Society Liaison for the American College of Surgeons Health Information Technology Committee. She is eligible for board certification in clinical informatics after she achieves board certification in general surgery. She can be followed on Twitter @zhaomd.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *