By Dorothy Hagmajer
GAINESVILLE — Gilbert Rivers Upchurch Jr., M.D., the Edward M. Copeland III and Ann and Ira Horowitz Chair in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of surgery, has been named to the National Academy of Medicine for his seminal contributions to the understanding of the development of vascular disease and contributing greatly to the advancement of all aspects of vascular and surgical care.
“Honestly, I am a bit overwhelmed and thankful,” Upchurch said. “I fully recognize that this is the reflection of all the amazing people I have been blessed to work with in my career. I also hope it represents a continued and growing national trend in recognizing the University of Florida as a prominent national powerhouse in medicine and science.”
Upchurch was recruited in 2017 for his international reputation as an acclaimed clinician, researcher and educator in the study and treatment of aortic and vascular disease. Since then, he has continued advancing the specialty — even taking the time to consider its future.
In his 2019 presidential address to the Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Upchurch cited data predicting a shortage of between 20,000 and 30,000 surgeons by 2030. This, in conjunction with widespread burnout and a lack of diversity in the specialty, he said, illustrated the problems endemic to becoming a vascular surgeon. His suggestions about how that could be addressed — changing the way surgeons learn, deliver care and lead, have mirrored his own career arc at UF.
“We’re always striving to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders in health care and academic medicine,” said Colleen Koch, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “We couldn’t do it without outstanding faculty who prioritize the growth of others as much as their own.”
During Upchurch’s time as chair, the department of surgery has seen several milestones — many set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty have performed some of the first COVID-19-related lung transplants in the nation, leveraged artificial intelligence to supplement clinical decision-making and published meaningful research on the subject of diversity in clinical trials and the surgery workforce itself.
Prior to joining UF, Upchurch served as the chief of vascular and endovascular surgery in the department of surgery and as the medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was also the William H. Muller Jr. professor of surgery as well as a professor in the department of molecular physiology and biological physics.
Earning his medical degree at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and training at Harvard University, Boston University and the Cleveland Clinic, Upchurch serves on the editorial boards of several prestigious publications, including the Annals of Surgery, Surgery, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, JAMA Surgery, and the Journal of Vascular Surgery. He has also served as editor or associate editor for 13 books.
Upchurch is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American Heart Association and the Society of Vascular Surgery. He also serves as the chair of the Vascular Surgery Board and is a member of the American Board of Surgery. He also serves on the UF Health Shands Hospital board.
Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes those who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.
“As a top 5 public university, we’re proud to keep making this a destination for students, patients, researchers and faculty alike,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We’re grateful to work with stellar faculty who are committed to our missions of teaching, research and patient care, and their robust track record of innovation in their field.”
New members are elected by current members through a process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. A diversity of talent among NAM’s membership is assured by its Articles of Organization, which stipulate that at least one-quarter of the membership is selected from fields outside the health professions — for example, from fields such as law, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities.
“It is my privilege to welcome this extraordinary class of new members. Their contributions to health and medicine are unmatched – they’ve made groundbreaking discoveries, taken bold action against social inequities, and led the response to some of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau, M.D. “This is also the NAM’s most diverse class of new members to date, composed of approximately 50% women and 50% racial and ethnic minorities. This class represents many identities and experiences – all of which are absolutely necessary to address the existential threats facing humanity. I look forward to working with all of our new members in the years ahead.”
Established originally as the Institute of Medicine in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine addresses critical issues in health, science, medicine and related policy. NAM works alongside the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge and increase public understanding of STEM. With their election, NAM members make a commitment to volunteer their service in National Academies activities.