A passion for surgery

A passion for surgery

Surgeon Thomas Beaver found his niche in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery and research

By Dorothy Hagmajer
Dr. Thomas Beaver and Dr. Robert Feezor, Cardiovascular surgeon and vascular surgeon, UF Dept of Surgery

Dr. Thomas Beaver and Dr. Robert Feezor, Cardiovascular surgeon and vascular surgeon, UF Dept of Surgery

For some, the annual eighth-grade frog dissection is a source of anxiety, squeamishness and lengthy permission slips. For Thomas Beaver, M.D., M.P.H., it was a moment of revelation.

“We were dissecting frogs, and I knew I wanted to be a surgeon,” Beaver said. “But I didn’t know what type of surgeon.”

In medicine, the process of choosing a specialty is similar to trying on a variety of gloves. Residency programs provide future practitioners with a glimpse at potential specialties, of which there are a daunting 120. Some ‘gloves,’ of course, fit better than others.

“I’ve talked to one of my relatives who is a rheumatologist, and she knew right away that she didn’t want to be a surgeon,” Beaver said with a laugh. “She was sitting in the operating room, saying ‘I have no interest!’”

However, his relative loves going to clinic and getting to know her patients.

“She’s found her passion too,” Beaver said. “That’s one of the great things about medicine.”

While his 13-year-old self may have had a few misgivings in terms of his career path, today’s Thomas Beaver, a professor and chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery in the department of surgery, is sure he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.

“I find it fascinating,” Beaver said. “I’ve always loved the cardiovascular physiology — just the way that works — and the way in which the electrical system is part of that.”

You would expect nothing less from the chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.

Beaver takes part in a trifecta of weekly duties. Aside from his administrative obligations, the surgeon conducts research focusing on atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating, and lung transplants. Recently, his clinic received a $700,000 grant to further pig lung transplantation research.

His priorities, however, lie with his surgeries.  For Beaver, his clinic is a resource for the state — meaning the surgeon is accustomed to operating on patients from all over Florida, sometimes a couple hundred per year.

“We know most of the surgeons around the state and they have our cell phone numbers,” Beaver said.  “So even though we’re not on call … we’re always on call.”

This year, he received the greatest number of applications to date for the thoracic cardiovascular residency program he directs. Although Beaver and his team are only able to accept two new residents, more than 60 applied. Although the number is a definite nod to the prestige of the program, Beaver also views it as an auspicious sign of what is to come.

“We’re excited about the future,” Beaver said. “We’re on a great trajectory.“