Major Goals for Microsurgery

David Habin Song, MD, MBA, is on a mission to make Georgetown University School of Medicine and MedStar Health the best academic health system in the country for plastic surgery.

‘‘Plastic surgery is a field that covers the entire body, from scalp and cranial reconstruction to limb salvage,” he explains. As a surgeon he finds meaning in “restoring something that cancer or trauma has taken away.”

Song serves as academic chair of the department of plastic surgery at the School of Medicine and regional chief of plastic surgery at MedStar Health.

In the year that he has filled these positions, Song has advanced the role of plastic surgery in the regional academic health system. Peer-reviewed research publications have grown by 25 percent; he created a vice-chair for research position; the number of Georgetown medical students who chose to pursue plastic surgery has increased, and MedStar’s residency in plastic surgery has expanded from three residents per year to four.

Clinically, Song is a well-known leader in the use of microsurgical techniques to help women who have had breast removal and excision of lymph nodes to treat breast cancer. He has developed innovative surgical techniques, which take place at the level of individual blood vessels and nerves. It takes a “disciplined set of tools” and an additional year of training, Song says, to get comfortable sewing tiny blood vessels under a microscope with sutures that are about half the thickness of a human hair.

Song is also leading an effort to expand use of lymphovenous bypass and lymph node transplant. “One of the biggest side effects of breast cancer surgery is lymphedema, painful swelling of the arm caused by the removal of lymph nodes under the arm. Because these little pumps are not there to remove lymph fluid, the arm can swell intolerably,” he says. The answer, Song says, is to transplant “excess” lymph nodes from another part of the body to the armpit area, and connect them so that they can drain lymph into an existing blood supply. “This is a burgeoning field because the procedure can be used in many areas of the body,” Song says.

The surgeon with an MBA is also keenly interested in improving health care delivery. “I blend a lot of operations management in health economics into how we practice medicine today,” he notes. Song’s projects include reduction of medical waste in surgery, improvement in the ergonomics of surgical practice, and health care cost reduction through methods like bundled payment for a particular surgery.