|Center Profile: Marshall Urist, M.D.|
Marshall Urist, M.D., is the Champ Lyons Professor of Surgery, vice chairman of the Department of Surgery and UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center senior scientist. A surgical oncologist who specializes in the research and treatment of melanoma and breast cancer, Dr. Urist is a member of numerous organizations and societies, including the American Surgical Association, the Society of Surgical Oncology, the Southern Surgical Association and a former director of the American Board of Surgery. In 2011 he will celebrate his 30th year at UAB.
Marshall Urist, M.D., attended his first surgical rounds when he was only five years old. His father, an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles, made it a point to expose his young son to the field of medicine.
“My father was a great teacher and researcher who believed in imprinting,” recalls Dr. Urist. “He believed that if you followed someone around long enough, you would eventually pick up what they were doing. So I’ve been interested in surgery as long as I can remember.”
After graduating from the University of Southern California, Dr. Urist pursued a medical degree at the University of Chicago. Working on cancer-related pathology projects there got him interested in cancer as a specialty; after graduating in 1971, he explored the field further through his residency at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and a surgical oncology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“There was an opportunity at UCLA to learn about laboratory research and clinical trials,” he says. “That experience reinforced the idea that surgical oncology was becoming a legitimate specialty nationwide.”
Indeed, at the time, many surgery departments across the country did not have surgical oncology sections or divisions, Dr. Urist says. “People thought all general surgeons were oncologists and didn’t need additional special training.” But UAB was different, he soon learned.
Five Becomes 30
After completing his residency, Dr. Urist enlisted in the Navy for two years. As he completed his military obligation to the Navy, a friend and colleague at UAB, Charles Balch, M.D., the first head of surgical oncology, invited Dr. Urist for a visit.
“Dr. Balch and Dr. William Maddox had built a fine program,” Dr. Urist says. “I had a choice between Birmingham and Chicago, and I chose Birmingham. I was going to stay for five years at the most.”
That was in 1981, and since then, Dr. Urist has seen UAB’s surgical oncology program grow to attain national prominence in the field. He became chief of the section in 1985 and was responsible for doubling the number of surgical oncologists from three to six. “We’ve developed programs in most of the major cancer areas, and we have put a great deal of focus on breast cancer and gastrointestinal malignancies,” he says.
Dr. Urist stepped down as section chief in 2007, but he continues to direct the surgery residency program, providing an opportunity to educate the next generation of general surgeons. “We emphasize that cancer treatment is a specific therapy designed for an individual patient,” he says. “As future practitioners in the community, residents need to be aware of that and understand their role in developing and administering that treatment.”
Dr. Urist serves on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s treatment guidelines panel for melanoma, which brings together top experts from across the country to define treatment standards. He is also active in the Sun Belt Melanoma Group and the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group. “It’s an interesting and exciting process to change the scope of treatment across the country,” he says.
Reasons to Stay
When he’s not working, Dr. Urist enjoys golf, reading and gardening. Another of his current projects is the restoration of a 1962 Volvo P-1800— a 60th birthday gift from his wife. “It’s a two-seat sport model and the same type of car that I had when my wife and I met,” he says.
Dr. Urist and his wife, Connie, met on a blind date while he was a medical student in Chicago and she was teaching elementary school. They have been married for 38 years and have two children—Jon, a biotech analyst in New York, and Sarah, a contemporary art curator in Indianapolis—and two young grandchildren, Wilson and Henry.
Over the years, Dr. Urist has had chances to leave Birmingham and UAB, but he feels that he is right where he wants to be. “Whenever I return from a trip, I walk into the office and stop where everyone can hear and say, ‘Why anybody would ever want to leave Birmingham, Alabama, I do not know.’ When I put together the quality of the people, the facility and the daily stimulation and inspiration of taking care of patients, conducting clinical research and teaching residents and students, I understand that I have a great opportunity to make a difference. It’s very rewarding to be an important part of this process.”