Mary Hawn, surgeon who researches quality and clinical effectiveness, to head Stanford’s Department of Surgery

Mary Hawn, who starts at Stanford on July 1, is currently director of gastrointestinal surgery and vice chair for quality and clinical effectiveness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Mary Hawn

Mary Hawn, MD, a general surgeon with a special interest in quality and clinical effectiveness, has been appointed chair of the Department of Surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

She will start July 1.

Hawn is now director of the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery and vice chair for quality and clinical effectiveness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, home to one of the five largest academic medical centers nationwide.

“Dr. Hawn is an accomplished surgeon and health-services researcher with training in basic science research, making her uniquely poised to lead our world-class Surgery Department at Stanford Medicine,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “She is also passionately committed to training the next generation of surgeons and to imagining and pursuing the future of surgery.”

Minor thanked Thomas Krummel, MD, professor of surgery, for his 15 years of “exceptional service” as the department’s chair. “Tom has expertly guided Stanford to national prominence in academic surgery, quadrupled the surgical department’s research funding and doubled its number of faculty,” he said.

Hawn, 49, is a member of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons. She serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the Annals of Surgery, the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery and the American Journal of Surgery. She is the co-author of more than 90 articles in peer-reviewed journals and co-editor of the 2015 textbook Operative Techniques in Surgery, as well as of six book chapters in other volumes on surgical techniques and outcomes.

Her research interests focus on surgical quality and effectiveness, with the goal of helping to build valid measurements for quality care and to improve standards of care. “I want to inspire everybody to do the right thing for the patient every time,” Hawn said. “I’ve also learned to communicate that just because we try something doesn’t mean we’ll do it forever; change can be more of an experiment. If that change doesn’t work, we won’t keep doing it.”

Early interest in medicine

Hawn grew up in Manistique, Michigan, a town of about 3,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan. Her father was a dentist, and she became interested in medicine at an early age. “Growing up in a small town, I always thought I’d be a primary care physician or pediatrician,” Hawn said. 

As an undergraduate studying biomedical sciences at the University of Michigan, she worked in the laboratory of a gastroenterologist investigating genes that regulate stomach acid secretion. “That got me intrigued in research and a career in academic medicine,” she said. “Once in medical school, I fell in love with surgery, and I knew I could never do anything else: It was the pace, the active intervention, the results you could measure right away.”

Once in medical school, I fell in love with surgery, and I knew I could never do anything else.

She earned a medical degree and completed a surgical internship and residency at the University of Michigan Medical School. During her residency, she completed a research fellowship in colorectal tumor genetics and a master’s degree in epidemiology. In 2001, after a fellowship in laparoscopic surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Hawn was recruited to be an assistant professor in the gastrointestinal surgery section at UAB by Kirby Bland, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery.

“The day Dr. Hawn came to UAB, it was clear and evident that in her thought process and her visions and her actions, she could be a leader,” Bland said. “She embodies all the highest qualities for a faculty member: She has extraordinary diagnostic and clinical skills, and she is nationally recognized as a clinician, educator and translational researcher. I am pleased she is going to an outstanding institution like Stanford.”

Hawn is also known for actively supporting residents and fellow faculty. “When I got my first paper accepted for publication, she took me out after work to celebrate,” said Carla Holcomb, a third-year general surgery resident at UAB. “That day, I asked her if she still gets excited when she gets papers published in major journals, and she said, ‘Yes, but it’s a lot more gratifying for me to be part of your success.’  I have never known a more altruistic mentor than Dr. Hawn.”

‘Voice of reason’

Hawn is always “a voice of reason,” Holcomb added, someone “who doesn’t stand around in the hallway complaining about why things aren’t happening. She is actively working to improve the way we do things.”

The Stanford Medicine search committee that recruited Hawn was chaired by Frank Longo, MD, PhD, professor and chair of neurology and neurological sciences. “Dr. Hawn brings a key combination of exceptional skill sets as a gifted surgeon, mentor, academic leader and high-impact outcomes investigator,” Longo said. “Her experience and vision are a great fit for the many promising opportunities in the continued growth and development of the Department of Surgery and Stanford Medicine.”

Hawn will be moving with her husband, Eben Rosenthal, MD, and their children, Sarah and Walker.


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