Tom Krummel, MD, Believes Continuous Learning Is at the Heart of a Successful Career

He almost needs no introduction, and yet, we would be remiss in not sharing a few of his finest traits: A contagious passion for our industry, an affinity for finding better solutions and an enthusiasm to share his insight and knowledge. Those qualities are what make Thomas Krummel, MD, chairman of the board of the Fogarty Institute and co-director of the Stanford Biodesign program, an inspirational leader who has played a vital role in advancing our industry.

As Tom unofficially celebrated his 20 years of living in Silicon Valley and becoming an integral force in propelling the medtech ecosystem, we had the privilege of hosting him at a lunch-n-learn, where he shared wisdom he has garnered over his impressive career as a surgeon, innovator, academic, mentor and leader.

Never cease to learn 

Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, with parents shaped by the Great Depression, Tom honed his creative skills by tinkering with his dad’s tool box – experimenting with putting things together, then taking them apart to build something different. He learned you didn’t need much…to have a lot.

Education was a big priority; his mom encouraged Tom and his siblings to read four books a week and offered rewards for using new vocabulary, which prompted Tom to read the entire encyclopedia, cover to cover.

This learning mindset and curiosity have been an asset throughout his career.  “Reading is like compound interest — the more you read, the more you learn, which is invaluable for both your career and life,” he said.

Seizing opportunities

While Tom intended to pursue a scientific field in college, he discovered an interest in healthcare while attending a pre-med meeting his sophomore year. Initially reluctant to pursue a surgical specialty, that changed when a selective surgical rotation program introduced him to cardiac surgery. He was so captivated by watching how the heart works and seeing positive outcomes that he didn’t leave the hospital for two weeks.

“I was hooked,” Tom says. “This was a time when a medical student could do as much as they were willing and able to take on, and I jumped on the opportunity to get as much experience as possible.” That meant eight to nine pre-op history/physicals a night, three times a week, which not only paid his tuition, but expedited his learning curve.

When given the opportunity to fly to Irvine, Calif., to watch a thoracic surgeon perform a then-new procedure to treat neonatal cardiopulmonary collapse, he jumped at the chance, despite not yet being involved in pediatric surgery.

The trip paid off as Bob Bartlett, MD, the brains behind what became known as the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) procedure, taught Tom about both the intricacies of the surgery and the tools used during the procedures. He subsequently devoured related books and eventually became one of the earliest adopters of ECMO.

As a surgical resident, Tom placed six babies on ECMO who suffered from cardiopulmonary dysfunction, a condition that usually led to death. This time, all six babies survived. Like Tom’s mentor Arnie Salzberg, MD, famously observed, “Bartlett proved neonatal ECMO could be done, Krummel proved anybody could do it!” This set the trajectory as a pediatric surgeon and established his mindset to always seek better solutions and develop a deeper understanding of how devices can be used to improve outcomes.

Recognizing the value of delayed gratification

While practicing pediatric surgery at Penn State, Tom became more interested in the evolving uses of computer science in surgery and began developing new skill sets in engineering, simulation, computational science and surgical robotics.

Enmeshed in a successful and evolving career, he received a call from the dean at Stanford University offering him the chance to lead the surgical department. He was intrigued and during a visit became “dazzled by the possibilities” and challenged by the opportunities to grow the department.

With a vision to align technology and innovation with the local talent, he recruited over 100 surgeons and built the department to become one of the most successful in the country. While there, he met Dr. Fogarty, which eventually led to his involvement at the Fogarty Institute, and Paul Yock, which led to co-leading the Stanford Biodesign program.

“Taking a risk can open doors you never thought possible,” he says. “Stick with your principles, believe in your abilities and be open to where that can take you.”

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