Alumni Story: Dr. Keith White Shares Three Key Lessons
As a child, Dr. Keith White was a “curious onlooker” in his mother’s classroom when she was teaching biology dissections. That’s when he knew
he wanted to study medicine. Dr. White completed medical school at Louisiana State University (LSU) in the 1980s, followed by general surgery residencies at University of Missouri – Columbia and LSU. It was du
ring this residency at LSU that he decided to move forward with training in cardiothoracic surgery. LSU did not offer a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship, and as such, general surgery residents received significant exposure to CT surgery. He was given the opportunity to first assist during the majority of cardiac procedures and was primary surgeon on the thoracic cases. From there, Dr. White came to the University of Utah where he completed his fellowship in thoracic surgery between 1991-1993.
Dr. White describes his time at the University of Utah as “phenomenal” with regard to the cases he participated in as well as the way he was treated by the faculty. He names former faculty members Drs. Gay, McGough, Karwande, Jones, and Doty as being particularly influential, stating that they “were surgical mentors who could have written the textbook on how to successfully train and guide young surgeons to a productive career.” Prior to his fellowship at the U of U, Dr. White was able to participate in a year of research at the University of Utah Artificial Heart Research Laboratory, where he worked with several of the founders of artificial organ development, including Dr. Don Olsen and Dr. Willem Kolff. He states that this experience set him up for an excellent fellowship.
Following his training, Dr. White returned to LSU for nearly a decade as an academic cardiac transplant and cardiothoracic surgeon. From there, he assisted in the development of two cardiac surgery programs in private hospitals in Louisiana. In 2018, he returned to LSU where he is currently professor and chairman of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery. His primary interests include robotic lung resections and the surgical treatment of aortic root pathology.
A career this wide-ranging doesn’t come without challenges, of course. The first five years as a new assistant professor were the hardest, he said. Specifically, he noted that as a fellow, you “live in the operating room,” which means limited exposure to patients who are not surgical candidates. Figuring out who not to operate on was especially challenging. Conversely, Dr. White also has a number of great lessons that he has learned throughout his career.
1. Keep your focus on great patient outcomes and their families and you'll never have to advertise.
2. The referring doctor is not operating on the patient… you are.
3. Don’t forget that your trainees are a reflection of you. Be patient and empathetic.