Election to the National Academy of Medicine: An Interview with Dr. George Mashour

By Susana Vacas, MD, PhD
Scientific Affairs Committee

George Mashour, MD, PhD
George Mashour, MD, PhD

I had the opportunity to interview Dr. George Mashour regarding his recent election to the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. Dr. Mashour is an anesthesiologist and neuroscientist who is internationally recognized for his work of consciousness. He approaches the question of consciousness using computational models, experimental models, translational studies in healthy volunteers and clinical research in surgical patients. Dr. Mashour leads a multidisciplinary, NIH-funded neuroscience laboratory that studies the mechanisms and monitoring of consciousness across the translational spectrum. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Consciousness Science, Associate Dean for clinical and translational research and Director of the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research. He also serves as Executive Director of translational research in the Office of Research, as the Bert N. La Du Professor of Anesthesiology Research in the Medical School, University of Michigan.

Can you tell us about The National Academy of Medicine?

First, I want to thank you for the very kind recognition and opportunity to contribute some reflections. Collectively, the National Academies (Medicine, Sciences, and Engineering) serve as a non-governmental advisor to inform policy and, in the case of the National Academy of Medicine, to advance health. The National Academies serve an important function in creating balanced reports on topics of societal significance.

What is the most pressing issue facing our field today and how might you influence it?

I am passionate about academic anesthesiology and want to preserve our identity as a field that contributes to the world scientifically as well as clinically. In my opinion, one important way of elevating the stature of anesthesiology and preserving our intellectual values is to make contributions to medicine and science as a whole. In addition to advancing anesthesiology, we need to think about the bigger picture and appropriately position ourselves as critical contributors to major initiatives that transcend traditional boundaries. For example, at the University of Michigan, anesthesiologists play institutional leadership roles in informatics, precision health, genomics, translational science and medical education. Although this work might take us away from anesthesiology, in the end I believe this level of service helps advance our department by demonstrating the wider potential to contribute. I think the same holds true for national involvement beyond the confines of our field. 

What are the greatest "bottle necks" in supporting researchers and research teams and what can we do to address them?

This is a multidimensional issue and often involves limitations of time, money, space and senior expertise. I do not want to diminish those very real constraints, but I also believe that oftentimes, we talk about a problem of resources when in fact we have a problem of priorities. Prioritizing academic contributions at the departmental level is critical and, collectively, we need to think creatively about how to balance service needs and the appropriate resourcing of emerging researchers or research teams. We may also need to shift from traditional modalities of research that require enormous investments of time and money—e.g., randomized controlled trial—to more pragmatic methodologies—e.g., hybrid trial approaches involving the use of an electronic health record. On the basic science side, I think there are increasing challenges to the traditional approach to being a physician-scientist (e.g., one day in the OR, pain clinic, or ICU, and the rest in the lab). Shifting to strategies in which the physician-scientist serves as a team leader who partners with full-time basic scientists might ultimately be more viable and more productive. These are just a few thoughts, but we must foster passion for research, prioritize it as a core value, and be willing to explore new opportunities for pragmatic ways to advance knowledge.

What role has mentorship played in your career, both with regard to your experiences as a young academic and now mentoring young academics?

Having good mentors — as well as good sponsors, connectors, etc. — is critical. We also need to consider models outside of the traditional dyadic mentor/mentee relationship and develop mentorship teams, with individual members who bring diverse perspectives. I know I have benefited from a variety of mentors — including peer mentors — and continue to do so. In terms of being a mentor myself, it is the most satisfying aspect of my career. Far more exciting than getting your own grant is to play a role in helping a mentee get their first grant. That is an impact that lasts and keeps moving forward. Working in a “fringe” field like consciousness studies, there is a dearth of mentors.  So, it is a great privilege to have created a home at the University of Michigan to help graduate students, scientists, and clinicians flourish in this area of research. Importantly, SNACC serves this role more broadly in creating a home for neuroanesthesiologists and neuroscientists in anesthesiology, with accomplished members that can also serve a mentorship role and facilitate career success.  

What would you consider the most important advancement in neuroanesthesiology and related neurosciences in the next five years?

As someone who studies consciousness and the effects of anesthetics in the brain, I am very interested in information processing and information integration. I believe that information should be the key focus of anesthetic mechanisms as well as postoperative cognitive issues such as delirium.  However, our techniques to measure information in the brain are limited and the approach to information integration is typically with functional connectivity metrics that serve only as impoverished surrogates for what we really want to understand. So, the most important advance I can think of is a way to truly measure information and information transfer in the brain.

Finally, how did you celebrate this impressive achievement?

I was certainly excited to hear the news, which was unexpected. The recognition created a nice opportunity to reflect on the past 11 or so years I have been a faculty member and to express gratitude to the many colleagues, friends, etc. that have been so supportive. So, no formal celebrations, but a very meaningful experience nonetheless.


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