Ira J. Kodner

1997 to 1998

At a recent meeting of one of our most prestigious surgical societies, the presidential address was delivered by a prominent surgeon and directed toward young surgeons who might be interested in becoming academic surgical scientists. During the speech, he explained to the audience the importance of focusing on the advancement of the individual academic career, without allowing such intrusions as administrative responsibility, teaching, intense clinical load, and even time spent with community and family. He cited an article by Carl Dragstedt, the brother of renowned surgeon, Lester Dragstedt, written in 1964. The article entitled "Who Killed Cock Robin?" was a parody on the famous children's rhyme dealing with the ultimate death of Cock Robin for which no one would take the blame. The article by Dragstedt was interpreted as illustrating the failure of a young scientist who made a potentially important discovery in the laboratory, but never progressed to acquire his fame as a scientist because his early work was recognized, and his fame quickly diverted him to community, family, humanitarian, and educational issues. The point of the article is that no one who lured him into all of these activities took blame for his demise; but in fact, he was looked on as a failure for never developing his initial potential.

The question I ask today is "Was he a failure?" I believe it is a flaw to counsel a young surgeon to look only at the benefit to his or her own personal career and accomplishment.