'An incredible privilege': pediatric surgeon Dr. Lindsay Grier Arthur on leadership and growing his specialty at Saint Peter's University Hospital

Lindsay Grier Arthur, MD, is the newly appointed chair of the department of surgery at Saint Peter's University Hospital and surgeon-in-chief for the Children's Hospital at Saint Peter's in New Brunswick, N.J.

Becker's recently connected with Dr. Arthur to discuss his plans for growing Saint Peter's pediatric surgery department and his experience as a physician leader.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What first drew you to pediatric surgery?

Dr. Lindsay Grier Arthur: My first real interaction was with my pediatrician as a kid. He used to do Donald Duck voices and he was a fun guy. We got to know him for many years, so I thought a lot about going into pediatrics because of him, then I got to medical school and I fell in love with surgery. I ran into another mentor of mine, Marshall Schwartz, MD, who is a prominent pediatric surgeon and we hit it off. One of my lessons in life is picking good mentors tends to lead you to a good end, and I admired him a great deal and I thought, can I be a pediatric surgeon just like you? 

The specialty itself is an interesting specialty because it really is the last bastion of general surgery. We operate from the neck to the groin and everything in between, with the exception of the heart. You get a broad scope of practice, and you take care of kids that most of the time through no fault of their own have a medical problem. It's a very rewarding career because the parents are incredibly grateful.

Q: How do you build a doctor-patient relationship with your pediatric patients?

LA: You really do have two or three patients, sometimes four. You have the patient, you have the parent and sometimes a grandparent that are involved. The first thing is to show compassion to the child and keep them not afraid of you as much as you can. … If you try to show the patient empathy, the parent is drawn to you. You have to cater to the parents as well and make sure they understand everything that's going on. It's an incredible privilege for a parent to hand over their baby or child and say, 'Go fix it.' They are the most important things in their lives for most parents, so I take it very seriously and try to calm them all, tell them they're in good hands and go from there.

Q: What are your plans to grow and develop the pediatric surgery department at Saint Peter's?

LA: We're going to try to recruit an additional two pediatric surgeons to the hospital. In terms of growing the practice, there are untapped areas — hospitals that need outpatient pediatric surgery exposure — so going to outreach sites dealing with the small stuff and bringing the larger cases to Saint Peter's where we have all the resources we need is one of my strategies. We're trying to market the type of practice we have here, some of which we haven't had at Saint Peter's before. I brought high level, minimally invasive thoracoscopic and laparoscopic surgery to the hospital. Hopefully that will entice parents to bring their kids to the hospital.

Q: Saint Peter's is situated between multiple healthcare hotspots, including New York City and Philadelphia. What is your strategy to help parents choose Saint Peter's for pediatric surgery?

LA: It's a big challenge; there are other options. We're capable here of doing just about everything that is done at ordinary hospitals in [those cities]. There are a few things that we should pass off to those institutions, but I think going out, grass roots meetings with pediatricians and practices and letting them know what we're capable of doing and getting to know them. Most pediatricians want to know who they're sending their patients to. That's my goal, to try to get out there and meet as many people as I can. We can also build services that haven't previously existed here before. I'd like to build a chest wall deformity program … there's not really anyone in central Jersey that's doing that. Ultimately, I think a lot of parents would rather not have to go to a big city if they didn't have to to have their care.

Q: What was your journey to your leadership positions, and what does being a physician leader mean to you?

LA: When you start out, you're not really prepared for any major leadership position as an attending physician with the exception of spending your medical school and residency sort of rising up a chain in the educational round … then you start over almost as an attending. Gradually you develop some interests and you take on smaller responsibilities. For me, that developed some leadership skills, and I learned what people liked and didn't like. Part of being a good leader is being a good listener and actually listening to what other people's needs and concerns are, and then you ultimately have to make tough decisions about what to do. You could go one way or another that doesn't always fit everyone's goals or perspectives. If you have listened and then explained to them why you're making these decisions, most people will respect you for that.

Q: What advice would you give for people who are seeking leadership experience moving forward in their career in medicine?

LA: The first focus you should have is to be a good doctor, especially if we're talking about medical students. Learn to be as good of a physician as you can. The second thing is to watch the good leaders. Even as a young medical student, you're a fairly fully formed adult, and you can look at people in different positions and come up with people that you see how they act and how they lead and mimic those things, take those things to heart and try to use those strengths to build your own set of skills. Every person is sort of an amalgam of many, many people that they've crossed paths with during their educational process. Try to find the people you think are the most successful or inspirational, and that can go a far way for developing leadership skills.

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