Like a juggler keeping multiple plates in the air, a surgeon in academic medicine must balance research and medical training with providing outstanding patient care.
Charles Bellows, M.D., FACS, relishes the challenge. He recently assumed the role of chief of the Division of General Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
“Each part of my career has been great," Bellows says, "But I was certainly looking for the next career challenge. The opportunity to lead the division and focus on designing new delivery models of care, expanding capacity and educating physicians to excel within a transformed healthcare environment is really exciting."
As division chief, Bellows is responsible for UNM Hospital’s Level I Trauma Center, the only one of its kind in New Mexico. He will also work to expand the clinical and research programs.
“As physicians, we must always strive to provide the best possible care for our patients,” he says. To do that, Bellows believes in the importance of innovation. He wants to inspire his division to find better ways to care for patients and improve their outcomes through integrated clinical practice, education and research.
“One of the challenges for me will be to create a balance in the division that fosters research, education and clinical work in a way that makes the workplace environment conducive to innovation, enthusiasm and commitment,” he says. A strong academic research program in general surgery is very important, Bellows says, adding that he hopes to continue his basic and clinical research to set the tone for the whole division.
One of Bellows’ research interests is biofilm infections and chronic non-healing wounds. Biofilms are thin, sticky layers of microbes that sometimes form over a wound. The body’s immune system doesn’t fight biofilms well, so biofilms can keep wounds from healing and cause them to become infected, making them difficult and costly to treat.
Bellows’ research has shown that re-programmed bone marrow stem cells produce proteins that destroy biofilms and speed wound healing. Creating methods to safely and effectively deliver these proteins to biofilm-infected wounds in people is the next step in his translational research project.
In other research, Bellows and colleagues at the University of Texas have discovered elevated levels of adult fat stem cells in the blood of obese people and patients with colon cancer. Bellows and his team are studying whether modifying the level of adult fat stems cells in the blood of the obese people through diet and exercise might affect their colon cancer.
Bellows encourages his fellow faculty members to pursue their own research interests and to involve medical students and residents. For faculty, studying an area that interests them can be a refreshing change from their clinical tasks. For students and residents, learning to balance research with treating people is a critical skill that will serve them well throughout their careers.
“The academic mission is critically important for all of us,” Bellows says. “There are many exciting and demanding challenges that lie ahead and I am excited about facing these challenges and making a positive contribution to the university.”