May 19, 2024

Dr. Mary Emily Klingensmith Testimonial

“In the fall of 1993, my journey as a surgeon-scientist began with a trip to San Francisco, where the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress was being held. At that time, I was a sleep-deprived second-year resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 15 months into my surgical career. Several months earlier, I had decided to enter a full-time laboratory experience after my R2 year. My identified mentor was Dr. David Soybel (AAS president 1999-2000), who was a new faculty member at the Brigham. For me, he was an obvious choice of lab mentor: he had an infectious enthusiasm for his research and displayed that balance I hoped to someday achieve between operating, teaching, spending time with family, and still managing to contribute in a meaningful way toward surgical scholarship; a “quadruple threat”! My identified project was ion transport in amphibian gut mucosa (ultimately, studying regulators of gastric acid secretion)—a project that was both simply elegant and terribly complex and daunting. I had written applications for both the AAS award and an individual National Research Service Award (NRSA), a crash course in ion transport and intracellular monitoring techniques that I undertook on the nights and weekends when I wasn’t on call as a junior resident. (This was before the 80-hour work week!)

I made that trip in 1993 to be interviewed for the AAS Research Fellowship Award. Looking back on it now, I see that it was truly was a pivotal moment in my career. During the interview process, I was introduced to several important people in academic surgery, had to present and defend my ideas for scientific inquiry in a meaningful way (wow, those interviewers knew a lot of science!), and began to appreciate the myriad of ways to achieving success in academic surgery. Later, I was delighted to learn that I had been granted the award,  and I was further honored to also receive an individual NRSA for the same time period. The NRSA paid my salary support, while the AAS Davis & Geck award ($15,000 for each of 2 years, 1994-1996) was used for research supplies and equipment. It was thrilling to attend the AAS meeting that year to accept the award; it was in Hershey, PA, and Dr. Karen Guice was president. Members of the AAS were welcoming and warm—true role models to a young resident just beginning her journey.

I had a very successful time in the lab, spending 2 years in dedicated study, with 15 peer-reviewed publications as a result (6 as first author). I am convinced that the funding from the AAS award aided me (and our lab) in the successes; we had the monies needed to try new projects and pursue interesting findings.

I am further convinced that while I no longer study ion transport in amphibians, the lessons learned during those 2 years of dedicated research have led me to where I am today: professor of surgery at Washington University, still very much involved in surgical scholarship. My primary focus in scholarship is surgical education, including team training, simulation, and surgical ethics. I have been successful in obtaining funding for these projects because of the successes I had in my AAS Davis & Geck–supported work. As a director of a residency program intended to train future leaders in academic surgery, my own personal experience with dedicated research time is crucial to advising and directing my residents. I am grateful for the support of the AAS in launching my career, and I make it a point to contribute to the AAS Foundation on an annual basis, as a means to ‘pay it forward’ to other aspiring academic surgeons.”

Mary Emily Klingensmith, MD
Brigham & Women’s Hospital