Dr. Mark Koruda

By: Lisa Cohen

For many UNC medical students rotating through general surgery, the first unforgettable glimpse of an open abdomen comes in the operating room with Dr. Mark Koruda, Professor of Surgery and a gastrointestinal specialist. While they learn to hold retractors or cut sutures, students find themselves being questioned by Dr. Koruda about fascial layers, blood supplies or tissue innervation. It can be an overwhelming experience for a first-timer in the operating room, not least because Koruda's enjoyment of teaching keeps the questions coming, and his intensity keeps the operation proceeding briskly. Though well known to students as a practicing surgeon, Dr. Koruda is involved in many different aspects of academic medicine. Outside of the operating room he is a clinical researcher, collaborating on a wide variety of clinical projects; a nutritional expert (he holds an adjunct position in the School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition); and an educator of residents and students. And this summer he will assume the role of administrator when he becomes the program director of the general surgery residency program.

Koruda became interested in medicine while an undergraduate chemistry major at Boston College. After graduating in 1977, he headed to Yale for his medical degree. Although he was initially interested in cardiology or pediatrics, Dr. Koruda discovered a love for the operating room while on his third-year surgery clerkship. He struggled between medicine and surgery when choosing a residency, but ultimately decided on surgery because he enjoyed the technical aspects of the work: "I was always a tinkerer," he says, "and I had a knack for doing procedures that was well suited for surgery". Koruda trained at the University of Pennsylvania, and stayed on there for a gastrointestinal fellowship. He was then recruited to UNC, at a time when the department of surgery was creating surgical subspecialty divisions to replace generalist services. Together with Dr. Charles Herbst, Koruda helped found the gastrointestinal surgery division, of which he became chief in 1991. Today there are four full-time faculty in the division, which sponsors a fellowship in laparoscopic and advanced gastrointestinal surgery.

Dr. Koruda's clinical practice focuses on care of patients with inflammatory bowel disease, a focus which he says evolved "by default" as the division recruited faculty with various other areas of interest. He finds care of IBD patients extremely rewarding, as it combines surgical treatment with complex medical management. Koruda is also active in research, and has published over 40 articles on a wide array of surgical and nutritional topics ranging from gastrointestinal reflux surgery to burn complications. He is also a contributing author to Surgery Unbound, an online reference for surgery residents that provides up-to-date clinical information.

If that were not enough to keep him occupied, Koruda will succeed Dr. Anthony Meyer as head of the surgery residency program this June. Koruda hopes to continue adapting the resident educational curriculum to the work hour reforms instituted two years ago. For Dr. Koruda, the loss of operating room time for junior residents, who must be relieved of duty after on-call nights, is the greatest challenge the work reforms present; the importance of real-time learning opportunities is, he says, "immeasurable". Nevertheless, he sees the changes as necessary and beneficial for surgeons trying to balance their lives and careers. Koruda has accomplished much in his career as a surgeon, but he is also proud at having made time for his three daughters: all athletic standouts, he exchanges operating room for gymnasium seats on game afternoons (and gives his weary students a rest).