Treat to Teach
Colorectal surgeon Jeffrey Barton, M.D. takes pride in the fast relief he can provide patients, while teaching up-and-coming physicians how to treat the patients of the future.
Born to a family full of physicians, Dr. Barton at first didn’t think he’d follow the family path, preferring to think of himself as a future educator. But once he realized that through being a physician he could be a teacher too, Dr. Barton decided to pursue academic medicine, specifically in the field of colorectal surgery.
“I was always looking for a field where I could get a good mix of doing benign and malignant diseases, small and large operations and good teaching opportunities, and I thought colorectal surgery was a good mix of doing all of those,” Dr. Barton says. “You can go a day just taking care of little problems with hemorrhoids or take on big colon cancers, and it’s a pretty good feeling either way.”
Dr. Barton is currently a practicing surgeon but also an assistant professor of clinical surgery in the Section of Colorectal Surgery at LSUHSC’s School of Medicine surgery department. When asked how he balances his work as a clinician and educator, he says, “I’d like to think it’s 100 percent on both sides.”
“But the fact of the matter is anytime I’m doing clinical work, if there’s a resident or student around, I’m trying to be sure that they learn something,” Dr. Barton says. “There’s some downtime in between, but every patient is a learning opportunity.”
The students and residents Dr. Barton teaches on his rounds through the hospital’s wards are enthusiastic, he says, including those who may not be taking up colorectal surgery as their own specialty.
“Having students who see the importance of a disease that they may not treat all the time but they’re going to see from time to time is very rewarding to me,” Dr. Barton says.
In addition to providing bedside learning opportunities as he sees patients, Dr. Barton also keeps a stack of PowerPoint presentations handy and delivers impromptu lectures to offer quick additional lessons when time allows. While illuminating the ins and outs of his own practice, Dr. Barton also aims to demonstrate the merits of surgery as a specialty.
“When somebody sees surgery not just as cutting people but rather treating diseases medically and surgically, it’s eye-opening for them, and it makes me feel like I taught something more than just a fact about surgery,” Dr. Barton says.
Dr. Barton also takes pride in the work he is able to do with his patients. In keeping with his passion for education, Dr. Barton spends time explaining diagnoses, treatment options and expectations, while answering his patients’ questions — something Dr. Barton feels is not done enough in medicine today.
But additionally rewarding to Dr. Barton is the unique type of relief his colorectal surgery specialty can offer to patients.
“Most of the time when a surgeon operates, the patient feels worse at first,” Dr. Barton says. “The operation hurts; having these diseases doesn’t necessarily hurt. That’s not the case with colorectal surgery. People with abscesses next to their bottoms, ulcerative colitis — the minute you operate on them, they wake up and say, ‘I feel better now.’ And that’s really rewarding.”
Dr. Barton has his work cut out for him in New Orleans, where he says colorectal cancer is common in the local community. However, the disease is very preventable if patients are screened regularly, he says. Dr. Barton emphasized the importance of colonoscopies last month especially, as March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
“It’s been interesting to talk to people about that, because it’s very preventable and far too many people don’t get their colonoscopy to prevent it,” Dr. Barton says. “It’s something that ideally at the end of my career I won’t be treating as much because we’ll be preventing it better.”
Jeffrey Barton, M.D.
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine – Department of Surgery
1542 Tulane Ave., 7th floor
New Orleans, LA 70112
Medical School: University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago, IL
Internship: General Surgery, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR
Residency: General Surgery, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR; Colon and Rectal Surgery, University of Texas Houston Affiliated Hospitals and Colon and Rectal Clinic of Houston, Houston, TX
Board Certification: Surgery