Moving Onward and Upward

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UH Research & Education Update | May 2022

University Hospital's Sharon Stein, MD, on why research is a critical aspect of becoming a better clinician

Sharon Stein, MD Colorectal SurgerySharon Stein, MD

Sharon L. Stein, MD, grew up in a medical family but had little interest in becoming a physician when she was young. She went for a very safe route and did everything else, including leading backpacking courses and teaching ski school; she felt that she was not doing things that made a difference. For her, surgery and medicine were how she thought she could best help people and make a real difference.

Dr. Stein completed her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a fellowship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, before joining University Hospitals in 2009. Dr. Stein thought she would only live in Cleveland for a few years while her husband completed his training but was attracted by the synergy she would find in the UH colorectal surgery team. “I think the best things are when you can actually build and grow because of the people around you. You can be a better you, and they can be a better them. So finding a place where we can have synergy is so important, which is one of the things that led me to stay here.”

Dr. Stein, Program Director, Colorectal Surgery at University Hospitals and Professor of Surgery, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, also holds many leadership roles, including the President of the Association of Women Surgeons, the Chair of the American College of Surgeons Women in Surgery Committee, and currently serves on the Executive Council of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. As an academician, Dr. Stein has published over 150 articles, editorials, and chapters on various topics, from minimally invasive surgery to diversity in surgery. In addition, she has written about gender disparities in surgery, including pay gaps, pregnancy in surgery, and intimate partner violence.

Paving new paths for women surgeons

Dr. Stein believes research is critical to becoming a better clinician. “If we don't look at the effectiveness of care, continue to ask questions, exercise our brains and thought patterns about how we can get the best possible outcomes for our patients, we are not moving forward. If we do what we have always done, that may not be not bad, but we can always be better.

Colon and rectal cancer has always been an exciting disease for Dr. Stein. She thinks colorectal research is only skimming the surface regarding what it means to have colorectal cancer and how best to treat it. Physicians often assume that patients with a specific type of colon cancer would all react the same way to treatments, or it should react the same way in each patient, but it does not. She believes more researchers will focus on colorectal cancer basic science in the next decade to understand this disease better. 

Being a woman in surgery has made Dr. Stein different from many of her colleagues. She is a widely recognized national physician-scientist leading colorectal cancer outcomes research and a trailblazer for women surgeons’ rights. “Not all women are getting the same opportunities and are vastly underrepresented in surgery. We have not talked about it enough. Like cancer, you have to find the problem and then look for solutions.” She believes writing and talking about diversity problems is necessary. “If we don’t have a diverse workforce, we can't represent our patients and provide the best care for them. Making our workforce stronger, making the culture more inclusive, and doing better and better is so important to be what we want to be for our patients and ourselves.” 

UH RISES: A pipeline for academic growth

Dr. Stein continuously strives to find ways for improvement. So when she saw how the research was done separately in the Department of Surgery, she knew there was an opportunity to get better.

As such, Drs. Stein and Joseph Sabik, Surgeon-in-Chief, University Hospitals, developed UH RISES, a program that brings together all 11 divisions within the Department of Surgery to enhance surgical outcomes research. In addition, the program provides junior faculty with the tools and resources needed to start their research careers. ”By lowering the barrier to research, more and more clinicians can be involved in research,” says Dr. Stein, who is now the UH RISES Director.

UH RISES creatively engages faculty through “Research Bingo” and asks everyone to write a multidisciplinary paper about healthcare disparities. It provides a platform for junior faculty to practice presentations and receive feedback from peers before they attend national meetings. It takes years and mentorship for researchers to become established, but UH RISES helps plant the seeds and builds a pipeline for the individuals to grow and develop.

Dr. Stein believes branding is an essential piece of success. “Creating a brand or a sense of pride is important, and at UH RISES, everyone is asked to be true to the brand.”

Dr. Stein envisions that UH RISES will grow in size and brand within five years. “Our first goal is to encourage more junior faculty to apply for funding by making it easier to apply. The second goal is to obtain more space so we can support more people to expand surgical outcome research across the enterprise. Again, it's easy; we want more people and want to give them more room to grow and develop.”

When asked what career advice she would give to young surgical trainees, especially women, Dr. Stein stated, “The biggest thing is to believe in yourself.”

FIVE IN FIVE with Dr. Stein:

  1. What is your favorite season? Spring
  2. Where is your favorite place to vacation? The beach, any beach.
  3. What is your favorite thing to do in Cleveland? Hang out with my family and friends in our backyard.
  4. Do you prefer coffee or tea? Tea all the way.
  5. Movies or Board Games? Board Games. The new one my family is playing is Wingspan.
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