Catch up with a graduate of our general surgery residency, Dr. Tadge Kanjo.
What year did you graduate, and from what program?
I graduated in 2005 from the general surgery residency.
What are you up to these days?
Since 2016 I have been working in the medical device industry. I started with Simplicity MD which is a group dedicated to developing medical devices for physicians by physicians. We evaluate new technology, determine which products have potential to improve outcomes and reduce cost, and then bring the product to market. In 2017 I was introduced to PenBlade safety scalpels and immediately recognized it as a truly great product. While studying the impact scalpel injuries have on the healthcare system as executive medical director of PenBlade I have become very passionate about safety in the operating room. There has always been a focus on patient safety in all areas of patient care but the reality is that surgeons, techs, nurses, and housekeeping staff are at risk for a higher rate of illness and injuries than any other industry. Recently I have joined the effort of the Sharps Injury Prevention Stakeholder Group along with the International Safety Center and TDICT to develop safer technology without compromising care. Our goal is to increase the level of involvement of the surgical community in the development and adoption of safe technologies. PenBlade, Inc has recently been acquired by TIDI Products which is a company dedicated to the safety of patients and healthcare workers alike. I will continue to work as a consultant for PenBlade arranging clinical trials and fostering partnerships with safety organizations such as OSHA and NIOSH.
What led to your decision to stop operating?
Shortly after moving to Salt Lake City I had a skiing accident that required a spine fusion. Unfortunately, complications during surgery resulted in nerve damage to both of my legs. A total of six operations over seven years did not resolve the issue and eventually I had to accept that it was time to move on. At this point I am fully recovered but too much time has passed since I last operated and I am enjoying this new role too much to return to clinical practice.
Reflecting on your time here at UW Dept of Surgery, what do you believe helped you prepare for the surgical career you have now?
I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I had to train at the University of Wisconsin. Working with so many amazing people helped shape who I am as a physician and a person in so many different ways. Two principles that were ingrained in me that I encounter often have to do with momentum and integrity. Dr. Mahvi was the residency director during my time at UW and often talked about the momentum of other physicians’ diagnosis or bias. Patients are transferred in with a diagnosis, or have a history of a condition that, right or wrong, leads to a bias to the point we can start trying make the data fit the diagnosis instead of letting the data lead to the correct diagnosis. You need to be able to have an open mind and to look at the problem with a clean perspective. It’s critical. This skill has saved me a lot, and it’s helped me make the right diagnosis for patients. It’s also helped me in the business world, because I’m not afraid to look at processes with an open mind and solve the problem in front of me without a bias of how it is normally done.
The second thing I really learned was the value of integrity. I don’t ever put anything on paper unless I can support it. I’ve learned to have my facts straight and my data clear before I act or do anything. That’s come back many times, especially in this business. People are going to scrutinize every claim we make. When I first started working for Penblade, I would spend hours and hours making sure any claim I made was supported. I have never been more grateful for that particular principle than I was during the due diligence phase of an acquisition. Every claim we made as a company was questioned and evidence demanded. Thanks to the UW I was able to defend everything we did and said.
What has been on your mind lately?
For a while I’ve been thinking about the gap between physicians and the medical industry. Having been on both sides of the business now, it’s clear there’s a problem with the way they interact. It hampers innovation to a significant degree. We need to find a new way, especially in surgery, to have some open discussions with industry. You can’t rely on a surgeon to come up with a new device idea while he’s operating, you need partnership with industry to make that happen. I was just in a national meeting where a consensus statement is being drafted regarding the need for manufacturers to partner with clinicians to develop better technology which is important but it was hard not to notice the lack of physician involvement in the process. Without better collaboration, products like PenBlade which has the potential to eliminate 90% of all scalpel injuries will never see the lights of an operating room. There are obvious barriers and conflicts of interest to navigate but we need to at least start the dialogue.
What is a fond or funny memory you have that brings a smile to your face when you think about your time at UW Dept of Surgery?
When I started, Dr. Kalayoğlu was my advisor. We were working a ton, we were still doing call every other night from home. One week I had worked a ton, and he came up to me and asked “How many hours have you worked?” And I said “I’ve worked 130,” and he said “Ah, you should work 140.” It was a very different mindset back but I would not have it any other way. Those seven years were easily some of the best years of my life.
How do you instill the lessons learned at UW to a new generation of surgical trainees?
I have been thinking about how I could help doctors who want to transition out of medicine and find new careers in the business world. Physicians don’t realize the array of skills they acquire in order to practice medicine, more so as a surgeon. Companies also struggle with looking at physicians in a way that does not involve clinical practice. It turns out, the skills of leadership, communication, problem solving, decision making, and many more are very translatable to a vast number of other roles. Furthermore, the personality and intangible skills found in most surgeons are rare and highly valued in any corporation. Surgery training prepares us for so many more different situations than we realize.
How is life in Utah?
I have two kids, a son who is 14 and a daughter who is 13. They’re amazing. It’s been great to have more time with my kids. We love to hike and being outside, and we live twenty minutes outside the mountains. I’m trying to get them to go tent camping this year but I’m not sure they’ll go for that.
Do you stay in touch with any of your UW Dept of Surgery resident/fellows with whom you trained? Any faculty? If so, who and why?
I do more now. For a while, I avoided everyone because I was embarrassed. Everyone I had trained with was moving up in the world of academics, and here I was working a locums job because I couldn’t walk.
As I moved up in the company, and my conversations changed, I’ve been reconnecting over the years. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about the dinner. Your life gets busy, your family is growing, and you lose touch. The society is a way to reconnect with people and see what they are up to: I think it’s amazing. If it weren’t for the society, I wouldn’t be in touch with anyone. That’s part of why I’m happy to support the society fund to help residents be involved.