September 9, 2014

Penson to chair Department of Urologic Surgery

by Craig Boerner

David Penson, M.D., the Paul V. Hamilton, M.D. and Virginia E. Howd Professor of Urologic Oncology, will become chairman of the Department of Urologic Surgery, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Penson will follow in the footsteps of Joseph Smith Jr., M.D., the William L. Bray Professor and chair of the Department of Urologic Surgery, who will remain a valued member of VUMC’s faculty, maintain his clinical and surgical practice, and continue to teach and mentor.

“Serving as chair of our department is one of the most coveted jobs in academic urology. I am aware of many of the top individuals throughout the country who had a keen interest in the position,” said Smith.

“However, we have four or five people within our department who meet or exceed the qualifications of any from the outside and Dave Penson is undoubtedly a great choice.”

Hired in the late spring of 1991 to a department with just two other faculty members, Smith has grown the Department of Urologic Surgery to include 36 faculty members with an international reputation for success.

“Jay’s accomplishments as the leader of his department and steadfast commitment to patient care are legendary. His numerous contributions advancing the treatment of prostate disease benefit patients worldwide. We are grateful for his contributions to Vanderbilt,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “David is an outstanding clinician, researcher and leader who has already established an international reputation within his field. I am thrilled that he will succeed Dr. Smith as chair.”

Vanderbilt is now one of the highest volume hospitals for urologic surgical procedures, with both its adult and pediatric urology divisions ranking among the top 10 programs in the country and one of only two departments nationally to own this distinction.

"Our department is widely recognized as among the best in the world for clinical care, education and innovative research. Dr. Penson is the right person to carry this tradition forward but also to take advantage of new opportunities,” Smith said. “He is highly respected on an international level and has the leadership skills to take our department to even new levels. He can surely count on my unreserved support."

“Jay is among a small handful, in the top five, of urologic surgeons in the world due to his expertise in the field of Urology, his level of experience in urological oncology, his remarkable clinical volume, and the quality of his surgical care with outstanding outcomes coupled with his ongoing pursuit of innovation,” said R. Daniel Beauchamp, M.D., chairman of the Section of Surgical Sciences and the John Clinton Foshee Distinguished Professor of Surgery. “Those are very large footprints to fill.”

Smith performed Vanderbilt's first robotic surgery in 2003 and has completed more than 5,000 prostatectomies since that time. With Smith, the Medical Center has established itself as a leader in robotic surgery and indications have extended in urology to radical cystectomy, partial nephrectomy and bladder suspension.

“Dr. Smith and Dr. Penson are both outstanding leaders. Enough can’t be said about what Jay has accomplished while building one of the world’s best teams to discover and refine new treatments for urologic diseases,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “David will bring a different perspective and strengths to this role and I look forward to working closely with him as we seek to further our mission to provide the very best care for those we serve.”

Smith is editor of the most widely used urologic surgical text, an associate editor of the Journal of Urology, and has a major interest in global health with travel to Africa several times a year to help develop surgical training programs.

Recruited by Smith in 2009, Penson brings a different set of skills in terms of his leadership abilities, his organizational abilities and his approach to conducting health outcomes research.

“Like Jay, David Penson is also a urologic oncologist who brings yet another dimension of leadership to Urology through his incredible research expertise in addition to his clinical skills,” Beauchamp said. “The department has such strength on the clinical side that it is no longer necessary that the chair is the one who does the most clinical volume. I think David Penson, and to the credit of Dr. Smith who recruited him for this, brings a balanced leadership approach and a balanced skill set.”

Penson, professor of Urologic Surgery, Medicine and Health Policy, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, his medical degree from Boston University, received his residency training at UCLA, and fellowship training at Yale. He served as a member of the faculty at the University of Washington and USC before joining Vanderbilt.

“Smith’s legacy is the people who come through here – each of us is where we are now because of Jay’s help. I owe him a lot. Jay has made contributions in education, research, new technologies and clinical care. He is the complete package. You just have to look at what has been built since he came here. He has taken us from a small but good Urology shop to the best in the country, if not in the world,” said Penson.

“Looking to the future, you want to maintain this culture of excellence but you can’t rest on your laurels. In surgery, we often say the enemy of good is perfect. Well, complacency is an enemy of good as well. We have to think about ways to expand our clinical enterprise. We have to be adopting new technologies, and testing them, and if they work, being an example to others on how to put them into practice. We have to continue to push the research, both in the laboratory and also the outcomes.”

Penson, who serves as director of the Center for Surgical Quality and Outcomes Research, has a passion for connecting people who are in the trenches and understand how to deliver care to policymakers who are making decisions that affect populations.

He recently received a $3.3 million, five-year, institutional K12 training grant award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to conduct patient-centered outcomes research.

“We want to train the next generation of clinical researchers in patient-centered outcomes research, research that is relevant to patients making decisions about health care,” said Penson.