After an influential career in trauma, surgical critical care and translational research related to the evolving epidemiology and pathobiology of multiple organ failure, Frederick A. Moore, M.D., FACS, MCCM, professor and co-director of the UF Sepsis and Critical Illness Research Center, retires on April 15. His last working day is March 13 — the day before his birthday, when he turns 69.
In a Q&A, Moore reflects on the future of surgery and what it means to age as a surgeon.
Q: What’s on your mind as you look toward leaving the specialty?
A: I’ve been thinking about burnout. You know, you read these articles and many of them talk about all these trauma surgeons who are experiencing burnout. I think one of the ways of preventing this is developing a genuine, driven interest in something. Pick a topic of interest to you and your practice and become a real expert in it. I personally took on multiple organ failure, and spent almost 40 years studying it. I did this translational research as a major component of my career, but people can do it on all different levels. You just need to figure out what you’re excited about. Trauma surgeons are especially prone to burnout because they get sucked up into the clinical machine and work long hours. When you take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to your field, you get a lot of positive feedback from your patients because of your expertise and your ability to relate to what they’re going through. You also develop career-long friendships with colleagues at other institutions who share the same interest and with whom you can discuss your ongoing findings and get their thoughts.
When you pick that subject you’re excited about, make sure you go back and study the history. After all, previous generations of surgeons were just as smart as we are. They were just viewing the problem through a different lens, or the technology that was available to them. I would encourage people to establish a prospective database and surround themselves with a bunch of smart people. Collaborate with them and get them interested in studying this subject with you. The other strategy is to develop different evidence-based protocols in taking care of these patients. You can sit down with your collaborators and clinicians and design specific decision tree algorithms. With implementation and quality improvement data collection, you can figure out what doesn’t work very well. But through an iterative fashion, you can figure out how to take care of complex patients in a robust way.
Q: Do you have any memories that stand out from your career in surgery?
A: I trained at Denver General Hospital, which at the time was known as “The Knife and Gun Club” in the pictorial documentary published by Eugene Richards in 1989. This meant that I became a very accomplished penetrating trauma surgeon very quickly. But when I moved to Houston, I started working at Hermann Hospital, which was an extremely busy blunt trauma center with many blunt trauma patients. Blunt trauma patients are so much harder to take care of. In fact, it was mind boggling for the first few months. But I met and befriended a gentleman named James Henry “Red Duke,” who was a very famous trauma surgeon who also had a TV show. I was hired to replace him and he worked with me for over a decade. He was an amazing person. You’d go out to dinner and people would walk right over to you. We did all sorts of stuff, like dove hunting in the middle of nowhere in Texas. At one point, we pulled into a gas station and when he got out of the car, almost everyone came out of the station to say hi.
Q: How does it feel to be leaving surgery after almost 40 years?
A: Well, about four years ago I gave a talk about what it means to get older when you’re a surgeon. Part of that talk revolved around the importance of creating a plan for transition into retirement. Then the COVID-19 pandemic pushed that right along, you know? We always ended up going to a lot of meetings and all of a sudden…there’s no meetings to go to. So I started doing a number of other activities, like mountain biking, kayaking, bike touring and golf. Part of the research I did said that exercise is very good for maintaining cognitive functioning. The recommendation is, you should take up something that you used to do. In my case, I used to play golf. And if you take up this sport again, the wiring is in your brain. And golf is a great example as there’s lots of skill that goes into it. Kayaking in Florida is a unique experience because of the sheer beauty of the habitat around you. These crystal clear springs…It’s like nothing else. Kayaking is my favorite activity. I own six.
Q: Do you have any advice for young surgeons just beginning their careers?
A: Become an expert clinician. It’s not easy to become an expert, as you need to spend a significant amount of time looking at your patients. But when being a good clinician becomes your first priority, good things happen. And a good doctor is more likely to be a happy one.