Dr. Brent Eastman ready to tackle leadership role for the American College of Surgeons

Dr. Brent Eastman
Dr. Brent Eastman

By Kathy Day

Count on Dr. Brent Eastman to put his own mark on each challenge he tackles.

The soon-to-be-retired chief medical officer and corporate senior vice president of Scripps Health recently stepped into the top leadership spot of the American College of Surgeons, which will mark its centennial under his guidance.

When he gave his presidential address at the very formal convocation in September – “full of pomp and circumstance” — he said he did three things never done before.

The audience consisted of 1,377 new fellows who, according to the ACS website, qualify for membership based on “the surgeon’s education and training, professional qualifications, surgical competence, and ethical conduct (which) have passed a rigorous evaluation.”

While preparing for his presentation, Eastman surveyed all of the new fellows so he could tell them who they are. What he learned via a SurveyMonkey poll is that average age of the fellows was 41, they had been practicing for four years or more, 300 were women and 232 new international fellows represented 49 countries; the rest are residents of the U.S. and Canada.

And when he started his speech titled “The Next Hundred Years,” the internationally- recognized trauma surgeon asked them to take a minute and introduce themselves to their colleagues to their right and left.

The leaders of the organization seated behind him were taken by surprise as murmurs of introduction took over the room, but he had a point to make.

“One of the two of you may be president of the American College of Surgeons in about 31 years – or it might be you,” he said last week as he talked about his presentation.

The third thing was to have a friend, Father Rick Frechette, who runs an orphanage in Haiti, deliver the invocation that had traditionally been done by a surgeon.

Eastman and his wife, Sarita, had known Frechette and supported his orphanage and pediatric hospital for years, and also saw him when Freschette led a team from Scripps and others from the American College of Surgeons to care for victims of the 2010 earthquake.

Part of Eastman’s message to the audience was about “collective intelligence,” noting that a key part of harnessing the power of people to solve a problem as a group involves emotional intelligence, which has a high correlation with women.

He used the discussion to emphasize that the key to “having a successful team, in and out of the operating room, isn’t just about having smart people – it’s about having people who work well together.”

Eastman has built his career on that philosophy and has been surrounded by successful women, including his wife, a well known developmental behavioral pediatrician and an author. Her first book was about her mother, Anita Figueredo – one of San Diego’s first female surgeons and her husband’s first partner – and, more recently, she wrote “Good Company,” a history of Scripps Health.

They met while responding to a “code blue” while he was on assignment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in San Francisco during his fourth year at the University of California at San Francisco, where she was also a medical student.

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