UF Health Aortic Disease Center celebrates five years

Led by Tom Martin, M.D., center is launching symposium and leveraging AI tools in health care.

members of the aortic disease center point to a scan.

For Tom Martin, M.D., the UF Health Aortic Disease Center is built around people.

From the center’s beginnings in 2018, Martin and his team set three goals: increase case volume, broaden their research and improve the quality of treatment for patients.

As of 2023, each goal has been met — and surpassed. The center’s case volume is up to 760, one of the highest across the country. An inaugural, continuing medical education-accredited International Aortic Symposium will debut in early December, detailing contemporary aortic pathology, diagnosis and treatment paradigms, connective tissue disorders and more. And, like the College of Medicine as a whole, the center is leveraging artificial intelligence to improve the future of health care, such as using AI tools to identify genes that may make certain patients more prone to developing advanced aortic complications.

Unequivocally, he credits these successes to the clinicians, researchers and staff who enable the center’s clock to keep ticking. Everyone, Martin said, is on the same page and in full support of the overall mission.

“You must prioritize the patient,” said Martin, a professor in the department of surgery and director of the center. “You always have to think, ‘What’s the best thing for them?’ And sometimes the best thing is not necessarily an operation. Regardless, you must ensure that the patient and their family understand the problem and what solution you’re proposing from a surgical standpoint.”

Tom Martin headshot
Tomas D. Martin, MD, professor and director, UF Health Aortic Disease Center

A self-described “simple country boy,” the former Texan has gained distinction for his method of communicating with his patients. For the past 25 years, he has approached any potential treatment with a drawing — pen or pencil, on the back of whatever paper is closest to him. Then, he sits down next to the patient, and sketches a rough visual of their condition, and what different options will look like. Dubbed “Martin art,” almost every patient leaves the Aortic Disease Center with a drawing.

“I started doing it because doctors often don’t spend enough time with people, and they don’t speak a common language,” he said. “When you talk to patients, you have to bring things to a level that people can understand, because if they can understand what’s wrong with them, then they can make an informed decision of what they want.”

According to Martin, there are two different philosophies, particularly in surgery. The first maintains that the surgeon is going to tell you what to do. The second philosophy, which he follows closely, holds that the surgeon also has the responsibility to impart that knowledge in a way that enables the patient to provide informed consent.

When sharing this knowledge with patients, a picture is worth a thousand words, Martin said. And nowadays, it’s even easier. He routinely combines drawings with CT scans or echoes, and the information falls into place.

Martin has spent decades treating aortic disease, and his tenure as the center’s director will one day come to a close. Consequently, his focus is still — and maybe more than ever — on its people. From the person who picks up a patient’s call, to the nurse who takes them through pre-op, to the anesthesiologist, everyone is essential, he said.

“I tell people all the time that if you want to build a program, you have to build up its people first,” he said. “Without all of these people and their collaboration, we would not exist.”