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Dr. Debra Sudan Selected as the 2020 Master Surgeon

Thursday, March 18, 2021
By RC Dubois, Section of Surgical Disciplines
Photo of Dr. Debra Sudan's Master Surgeon Award

Photo above: Dr. Debra Sudan's portrait hangs among the other Duke Surgery Master Surgeons. Photo by Scott Behm, Section of Surgical Disciplines.

Debra Sudan, MD
Dr. Debra L. Sudan, 
Professor and Chief,
Division of Abdominal
Transplant Surgery

Congratulations to Debra L. Sudan, MD, Professor and Chief, Division of Abdominal Transplant Surgery, on her recognition as the 2020 Master Surgeon. “I’m honored to have received the award; it has been unbelievable to be recognized in this way. The outpouring of support and kind words, both here at Duke and outside of Duke, has really been very touching,” says Dr. Sudan. 

“Dr. Sudan embodies the qualities of a ‘Master Surgeon’ in every way. She is technically brilliant, completely dedicated to her patients—who are some of the most complicated, vulnerable, and severely ill patients imaginable—scientifically driven, and effective and respected as a national leader in her field. We are so fortunate to have her at Duke,” says Allan D. Kirk, MD, PhD, Vice Dean of Surgical Disciplines. 

During her time at Duke, Dr. Sudan has been proud of her work with the liver transplantation program, which has consistently been one of the top three in the country for a number of years. “I believe we have put together a great team and achieving these excellent outcomes is not something I could have done alone,” says Dr. Sudan. She is also proud of the intestinal transplant program, which is one of only 12 currently active in the country. The establishment of the intestinal transplant program is noteworthy because it offers patients in this region therapy that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

This path to recognition has been a long one, and over the course of her career Dr. Sudan has appreciated the support she received from both current colleagues here at Duke, and former colleagues at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Byers ‘Bud’ Shaw, MD, and Alan Langnas, DO, of UNMC, are “technically phenomenal surgeons, who taught me how to perform difficult transplant procedures and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone,” says Dr. Sudan, "And Timothy Baxter, MD, who encouraged me to become active in academics. He pushed me to explore and answer questions important to my specialty and got me involved in national academic societies, including the Association for Academic Surgery and Society for University Surgeons.”

Dr. Henry Rice and Dr. Debra Sudan perform a conjoined twin separation
Dr. Henry Rice (left) and Dr. Debra Sudan (right) perform a conjoined twin separation. Photo by Shawn Rocco.

Bradley Collins, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, one of her current partners, was here when Dr. Sudan first arrived at Duke, and he was “incredibly supportive and a knowledgeable, gifted surgeon who served as a cheerleader at times and also gave sage advice on how to navigate my new surroundings,” says Dr. Sudan. “His partnership and support have helped tremendously.” 

Shelley Hwang, MD, MPH, Professor of Surgery, and Cynthia Shortell, MD, Professor of Surgery, were also impactful. “It can be difficult to be female surgeon in a leadership role,” says Dr. Sudan, “and they do it with grace and courage. It has been enormously helpful to have been surrounded by very supportive colleagues and helps to have their perspective when navigating difficult situations. Of course, having Dr. Allan Kirk as Chairman of Surgery has been incredible, as he has been very supportive of the transplant program in general, and he has brought a whole new level of expertise in transplant immunology and investigation.” 

Dr. Sudan offers three pieces of advice to surgeons who are just starting out in their fields. “Do something you’re passionate about, because you work many hours, really hard in your career, and to be able to sustain it, you need to enjoy it. Also, surround yourself with kind, thoughtful, talented, and technically gifted surgeons you can learn from. And don’t be afraid to perform difficult procedures; someone needs to break ground and it might as well be you.”

Read more about the Master Surgeon Award and Dr. Sudan's accomplishments

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