Professor George Hanna, Head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer, is reshaping the Department as part of the Faculty of Medicine’s reorganisation.
Professor Hanna started his medical training at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, Scotland in 1992, primarily as a general surgeon but with special interests in keyhole, laparoscopic and oesophago-gastric surgery. He obtained his PhD on the ergonomics of laparoscopic surgery in 1997 and took a lecturer position in Dundee. In 2003 he joined Imperial College London as a Clinical Senior Lecturer and Upper Gastrointestinal Consultant Surgeon and was promoted to Reader in 2005, and Professor of Surgical Sciences in 2008.
In this interview, he discusses his medical inspiration, gives advice to those starting a career and outlines his plans for the Department.
What inspired you to become a doctor and specialise in surgery?
I was inspired to become a doctor because I believe working with people is a very noble thing to do and working directly with humans is a fundamental part of medicine. I then specialised in surgery because I want to make a difference which is measurable – as a surgeon you can see the direct impact and effect of what you are doing.
I also believe that surgeons go into the surgical theatre and perform a piece of art. As such, I really appreciate that my role is the kind of speciality that allows me to do lots of different things. Like an artist, I work with my hands; like a clinician, I make diagnoses; and like an academic, I discover things. It may be a romantic way of looking at it but I feel that as a clinical academic surgeon I get to do all the things I enjoy.
How did you feel about becoming Head of Department?
I was extremely proud and excited to be offered the role of Head of Department. However, that wasn’t because it was just a promotion but because it offered me the opportunity to better serve people – being Head of Department gives me the best opportunity to make a positive difference to people’s lives.
What is your vision for the Department of Surgery of Cancer?
I have several goals I want the Department to work towards.
As a clinical department, our scientific research must have an impact on the clinical practice. It is essential that we successfully integrate the clinical and academic components of the Department to have the most impact on the practice, therefore helping as many people as possible.
We must also take the opportunity to develop the next generation of scientists and academics. There aren’t many academic surgical departments in this country, so we have a duty to Imperial, and more importantly the UK, to help produce the next generation of academics in the surgical field. Our job is to create an environment that stimulates and inspires clinical academics.
I will also be looking at the direction of the Department’s research. At Imperial, we are extremely privileged to have the opportunity to work with scientists from different backgrounds, making the Department well placed to lead in convergence science. For instance, we can merge our research with that coming from the Faculties of Engineering and Natural Sciences, creating innovations in our clinical practice. This interface between the different strengths of Imperial and the clinical practice of Surgery and Cancer is a great example of the benefits of convergence science.
Finally, I hope the Department's rich portfolio of master’s and postgraduate research programmes will place education at the centre of our work. However, it will be essential the Department continues to evolve and improve its educational offering. We will regularly review our courses to ensure the best student experience, utilising technologies and opportunities to deliver high-quality PGT postgraduate taught courses at the convenience of the student. By incorporating digital technologies, alongside face-to-face teaching with world-class researchers, we aim to produce high-quality graduates who will excel in the job market.
What sort of culture would you like to foster within the Department?
I would like to put an emphasis on equality, high quality, high integrity and collaboration – for me, that is what really drives a successful academic and clinical department. Aspiring to the highest quality, to the greatest of your ability, should be a key driver for those who work in the Department.
What advice would you give those starting a surgical career?
A competitive nature is often seen as an important part of a surgeon’s psyche, but you should question who it is that you are competing with? There are two options. Either you compete with other people, meaning all you can achieve is being better than 'person X' or 'Y', or you compete to reach your own potential. That is what I tell my students to do – it’s not about being better than a person but about reaching your full potential – reaching your 100%.
When I go into the surgical theatre, I would like to have a zero-mortality rate. When I apply for grants, I would like to have them all accepted. So, I think that competition shouldn’t be against individuals, but against achieving that level of perfection – that is the real competition we all take part in. To compete with people is a reaction, to compete with perfection is a principle.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work in the Department?
There are lots of enjoyable parts of my work, that is what makes it a great job. I immensely enjoy performing surgery, I would pay money to operate! It is not just a job for me, it is my passion - I feel operating is like creating a piece of art.
Working with the Department’s PhD students and staff is also extremely rewarding. They are fundamental to the research that the Department does, and it is extremely gratifying seeing their own personal development and successes as they progress through their careers.
And what is the most challenging?
There will always be parts of a job which are challenging and there will always be parts which are difficult, but I think the principle is to convert the problem into an opportunity – an enemy into a friend. That is what I take as a challenge – if I have a problem, how can I convert it into an opportunity.
What do you like doing outside work?
Outside of the hospital, I like to support my local community through charity work and mentoring young people who may be going through tough times in their life. I find it particularly rewarding helping young people change their life in a positive way, some of whom are often resistant to change initially.
I am also very blessed to have an extremely supportive family who I love spending time with. It is not only me serving the Department, but it is also my supportive family helping me to do that.
Finally, if you weren’t a surgeon, what would you have liked to have been?
I have always enjoyed is physics, but if I ever had to choose what to be again, I would remain a surgeon!
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