Faculty Focus: Q&A with Samuel Poore, MD, PhD
Plastic Surgery Resident strives to provide readers with career advice designed to aid them in their professional advance after residency – by sharing insights that may help them create their own, desired path.
In this installment of Faculty Focus, we present ASPS member Samuel Poore, MD, PhD, associate professor of plastic surgery in the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) Division of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Poore earned his MD and PhD at Brown University, Providence, R.I., and he completed his plastic surgery residency at UW, as well as a microsurgery and research Fellowship at Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery, Melbourne, Australia.
Dr. Poore believes that plastic surgeons should absorb all the information, education and life experience that becomes available to them – and to seek-out that which isn't readily offered. This way of thinking enabled him early in his medical career to see the comparisons between the anatomy and function of flight birds, and plastic surgery – an unexpected development that resulted from his studies under a renowned Brown University evolutionary biologist.
Dr. Poore fully realizes the benefits of balance and separating work from outside interests and that family should always come first, as well as the value of trusted mentors to whom one can turn with any question, at any time. A personal tragedy also led to a concerted effort to face head-on the trials that life imposes upon all – and he's quick to inform residents that the path to real success in the specialty lies in being honest, in practicing integrity and in making the effort to work well with others, no matter their station in life or medicine.
PSR: What first drew you to plastic surgery?
Dr. Poore: During the combined MD/PhD program at Brown University, I had the unique privilege to work with Professor G.E. Goslow Jr., studying the anatomy and biomechanics of bird flight. We were studying the organization of the wing musculature, bony anatomy and nervous system. While fascinating in its own right, it was far from human pathophysiology and medicine. As I approached the clinical component of the program, I became interested in the peripheral nervous system and its remarkable ability to heal after injury. When I rotated through the plastic surgery service, one of the first cases I encountered was an individual with an upper-extremity injury involving muscle, peripheral nerves and fractures. A light bulb went off: Here was a profession where I could apply to a human condition all the techniques I'd been using to study bird flight! At the time, I had no idea that the work of plastic surgeons had laid the pioneering groundwork on peripheral nerve regeneration, and the thought of contributing to that study was enthralling.
PSR: How did you prepare during residency to get into a competitive Fellowship?
Dr. Poore: I was lucky to have trained at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I was surrounded by excellent mentors, including our chairman, Michael Bentz, MD. I was encouraged to subscribe to the philosophy of exploring every subspecialty, read outside the primary literature, write papers and find mentors and friends at other institutions. I worked hard to present a well-rounded package that extended way beyond InService exam scores.
PSR: What impact did the Fellowship have on your career?
Dr. Poore: I trained at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery in Melbourne, Australia, under the mentorship of Professor Wayne Morrison. The Fellowship was unique in that it combined clinical training with training in basic science research. This was important for me, because I began to see the complexity in balancing a career in research and clinical surgery. Having Dr. Morrison (a true "triple threat") as a mentor gave me the confidence that one could, in fact, have a productive career in both research and microsurgery.
PSR: How important is a mentor in one's early years of practice?
Dr. Poore: It's critical. There's so much to navigate that the importance of having a mentor as a "tour guide" through this journey cannot be overstated. At the University of Wisconsin, I was fortunate to have a mentor in surgery (Dr. Bentz) as well as basic science research (Susan Thibeault, PhD). They helped me identify strategies for maintaining a busy microsurgical practice and a federally funded laboratory. I'm 10 years into this game and rely on their mentorship as much today as I did when I was a first-year attending.
PSR: How has your involvement in societies and committees helped your career?
Dr. Poore: I feel strongly that contributing to the field-at-large within and beyond our own institution through committee and society participation is not only a duty but a privilege. Being involved in ASPS and the Midwest Association of Plastic Surgeons has given me countless opportunities to network outside our own institution, to develop friendships and collaborations with other plastic surgeons and to work on my leadership skills. It's exciting to know that in working on committees and holding society leadership positions, I'm making contributions that will move the field forward. This excitement helps me get out of bed in the morning (and I'm not known for being a morning person).
PSR: What's the most important attribute for a successful resident?
Dr. Poore: Integrity, honesty and the ability to work with others. It's also important to keep an active mind outside the boundaries of plastic surgery.
PSR: How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
Dr. Poore: By setting boundaries and remembering that family comes first. I try to leave the "work at work," so when I'm home I can be as present and in the moment as possible. It all starts with organization, having trusted colleagues as partners and learning to say "no."
PSR: What was your greatest, non-medical challenge of residency – and how did you overcome that?
Dr. Poore: When my father passed away. He was my best friend – and his death was surprising and equally brutal. I relied on my partners for help and sought solace in activities other than medicine, such as playing the guitar, reading and spending time with my family.
PSR: What do you enjoy the most about being a plastic surgeon?
Dr. Poore: The diversity of cases and the long-term relationships I form with my patients and their families. I tell the students with whom I work that plastic surgery is the "family practice" of the surgical specialties. Also, the global health work we do at the University of Wisconsin is immensely enjoyable and highlights the impact that our specialty can have on a global scale.
PSR: What are some of the recurring challenges of your practice?
Dr. Poore: The balance of research and clinical practice. It's always a struggle – but being organized and having good people to work with (associate scientists, research Fellows) makes it so much easier (and so much fun).
PSR: How does teaching play a role in your schedule?
Dr. Poore: I constantly remind myself that education is one of the most important academic responsibilities. It's our direct connection to the next generation of clinicians, researchers and thinkers. The teaching component of my job is meshed within the daily routines of being a surgeon and researcher. My classroom is often the O.R., my lecture hall is the laboratory, and my "office hours" are held in clinic.
PSR: As a seasoned plastic surgeon, what's your advice for plastic surgery residents?
Dr. Poore: Develop life-skills beyond surgery. Read beyond the surgery texts, and remember that every day as a plastic surgeon is a privilege that should never be taken for granted. And keep smiling.
PSR: Complete this sentence: "I knew I wanted to become a plastic surgeon when..."
Dr. Poore: I saw a mangled hand in the O.R. and someone said: "Let's roll up our sleeves and fix this!"