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After an illustrious 12-year tenure as Division Chief, Nicholas Shaheen, MD, MPH, will step down from this role on July 1 to assume the position of director of The North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) at The University of North Carolina.

“I never imagined that I would end up where I am now, when I started here. At the beginning, I was just delighted to get a job,” Nicholas Shaheen, MD, MPH said.

Dr. Nick Shaheen’s first office was one some might have compared to a broom closet—a small, windowless room in Burnett-Womack. He had just completed a gastroenterology fellowship at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and accepted a faculty appointment as an assistant professor.

“They were very kind to protect some of my time for research, and that, along with the amazing mentorship in this place, made all the difference,” Dr. Shaheen recalled.

Dr. Shaheen closely observed leading gastroenterologists publish groundbreaking papers that significantly enhanced patient care. These luminaries conveyed the intricacies of grant writing and conducting research.

Developing an Expertise in Esophageal Diseases

In addition to receiving faculty development awards to safeguard research time, Dr. Shaheen devoted considerable time to patient care—a commitment that continues to this day.

“As time went on, I developed an interest and eventually an expertise in esophageal diseases,” Dr. Shaheen said. “Mostly because I really liked following around Eugene Bozymski who was my clinical mentor and one of the most wonderful gentlemen on the face of the earth.  All my early research work was mentored by Bob Sandler, who was my role model for conducting ethical, impactful research.”

The late Dr. Bozymski, Emeritus Professor of Medicine in the UNC Division of GI & Hepatology, initiated the UNC Barrett’s Esophagus Registry. This registry began as a simple piece of paper on the back of his office door, a practice preceding HIPPA, where medical record numbers of patients with Barrett’s were listed.

“He handed me that sheet, and that’s how I started studying Barrett’s and esophageal cancer,” Dr. Shaheen stated.

Empowering Physicians

Dr. Shaheen has dedicated his professional life to understanding these diseases. He assumed the position of program director of the UNC GI Fellowship program in 2004 and has served as division chief for the past 12 years.

“I found the best part of the program director’s job was trying to help young people prepare themselves for the career they wanted to have, whether it was academics, private practice or industry. Now, the thing I’ve enjoyed most about being chief is watching people’s careers flourish and doing what I can to try to advance them,” Dr. Shaheen said.

“I get the biggest satisfaction out of seeing people get their first job, become expert clinicians, get their first grant, publish a paper that they didn’t think they were going to be able to publish, develop and implement quality improvement, present at a national meeting. It’s just really fun to see all of that, because I think most people are more self-limiting than limited by extrinsic issues. My job involves just getting them to take that shot.”

Innovations and Impact

Under Dr. Shaheen’s stewardship, the division has evolved to become more technologically advanced and interventional. Their focus on innovation has enabled treatments that previously required surgery to be performed less invasively via endoscopy. Through strategic recruitment, the division has enhanced its capabilities in advanced and interventional endoscopy. The faculty continues to train exceptional young physicians.

UNC GI has also broadened its outreach, extending expert care to communities across the region—a mission that the healthcare system and Millie Long, MD, MPH, interim chief of UNC GI & Hepatology, will persist in advancing.

Dr. Shaheen will continue in his role of director of NC TraCS on July 1st and fulfill his responsibilities as senior associate dean for clinical research.  He will continue with his own research and remain a member of UNC GI.

“I have an enormous appreciation for getting to work with the faculty that I’ve gotten to work with over the last decade plus. They are world leaders in our field and have good hearts; they care about their patients, and they care about their coworkers.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’ll continue to take care of my patients, and I’ll continue to teach and be around the fellows, which is always a lot of fun,” said Dr. Shaheen.