New chair poised to steer division’s growth
by Cindy Abole
For Canadian transplant John S. Ikonomidis, M.D., Ph.D., success and
opportunity have been welcome companions throughout his professional
and personal life. During his medical career and especially within the
last nine years at MUSC, he’s readied himself much like an
understudy prepares to deliver his lines, or a protégé refines his
Dr. John S. Ikonomidis was named chief of CT Surgery July 1.
This unassuming, focused man would rather be known as the consummate
clinician, dedicated teacher and active researcher. He loves his role
as a physician and surgeon and all the challenges that go with it.
At a low-key July 1 event, Ikonomidis, as if on cue, stepped
forward into the spotlight to officially take the reigns of leadership
from his mentor and long-time surgery division chief and chairman Fred
Crawford, M.D. Ikonomidis is MUSC’s new chief of cardiothoracic (CT)
surgery and Horace G. Smithy Professor of Surgery.
As a rising young surgeon and junior level clinical scientist in
Toronto and California, Ikonomidis was familiar with MUSC’s Cardiac
Transplant Program’s reputation as a top ranking program with among the
best heart transplant patient survival rate outcomes in the nation. He
also was familiar with the accomplishments of Crawford, Carolyn E.
Reed, M.D., Francis G. Spinale, M.D., Ph.D., and others through their
leadership at MUSC and nationally with the American Association for
Thoracic Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.
Throughout his 30-plus year tenure, Crawford led MUSC’s CT program
through achievements and expansion in several clinical care areas. The
division focused on recruiting more experienced clinician-scientists
who could work alongside translational scientists to advance new
knowledge and research. So when MUSC was ready to expand in the 1990s,
Ikonomidis also was ready.
“I am very excited to have Dr. Ikonomidis taking the reigns as chief of
the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery,” said David J. Cole, M.D.,
McKoy Rose Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery. “The CT
Division has always had a national presence under the leadership of Dr.
Crawford in terms of national stature, basic and translational research
and clinical excellence. With him stepping down from this role this
past July, I felt that it was important to have a national search to
find the most talented individual to fill this position. As a gifted
clinical surgeon, a rising star on the national stage academically, and
an individual who is highly respected for his leadership skills, it was
clear to me that Dr. Ikonomidis was the only person for this job. I am
confident with him in this key divisional leadership role, that as a
division and department, we will continue to build upon our high
patient care and academic standards.”
Crawford also is credited for strengthening the institution’s most
established and the Palmetto state’s only CT surgery residency program.
He focused on recruiting specialists with clinical and research
knowledge to understand, apply and teach new surgical techniques,
percutaneous treatments and applications of novel surgical devices. The
program reached a pinnacle with the opening of Ashley River Tower in
2008, combining both general thoracic surgery and adult cardiac surgery
services with general cardiovascular care in a modern, technologically
“This is an exciting time for our division,” said Ikonomidis to
colleagues during the July ceremony. “We have settled into an
incredible new hospital designed for the continued growth of this
program…The Cardiothoracic Surgical Division is currently in great
health geographically, financially, academically, logistically and
otherwise, thanks to Dr. Crawford’s careful leadership. This puts us in
an ideal position for continued advancement and growth where it’s
Ikonomidis' goals include increasing awareness of heart disease through
education and prevention, and improving patient care. He’s supportive
to other forms of social media to introduce information and connect
patients to resources. He also wants to expand the division’s clinical
involvement and collaboration with other departments to share research,
protocols and practices that may help heart patients with their initial
treatment and care.
Expanding sub-specialty training
For residency education, Ikonomidis wants to continue to boost the
traditional CT surgical residency program, which requires five years of
general surgical training. A new six-year program is being
offered—matching physicians from as early as medical school graduation
into an integrated residency focusing more on CT surgery and other
related specialties. MUSC is one of only three residency programs
in the country to host this newly integrated program. In addition,
Ikonomidis also has plans to work with undergraduate medical students
and medical residents from other specialties to provide learning
“Our goal is to provide a rewarding experience for all surgery residents who rotate through our division,” Ikonomidis said.
Other goals include the establishment of an integrated heart valve and
aortic disease programs, combining expertise in CT surgery and
cardiology; further progress with heart assist devices including the
HeartMate II left ventricular assist device program, plus the
establishment of a lung transplant program.
A native of Toronto, Ikonomidis attended the University of Toronto and
earned his medical degree in 1989. He conducted his general surgery
residency training at Toronto Hospital. In 1997, he began a three-year
cardiothoracic surgery residency at Stanford University. It was here,
working with world-renowned transplant surgeon Bruce A. Reitz, M.D.,
and cardiovascular surgeons D. Craig Miller, M.D., and R. Scott
Mitchell, M.D., that he honed his sub-specialty expertise in
cardiopulmonary transplantation and thoracic aortic disease.
In 2000, he was hired as an assistant professor of cardiothoracic
surgery and Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery chief at the Ralph
H. Johnson VA Medical Center where he also shared dual hospital
“John Ikonomidis is uniquely qualified and positioned to lead
translational research efforts which address critical issues in
cardiovascular disease,” said Spinale, professor of surgery and
director of the MUSC Cardiothoracic Surgery Laboratory.
Friday, Sept. 25, 2009