Joseph S. Friedberg, MD, who was honored at his investiture ceremony last week, never thought he would become a surgeon. In fact, he never thought he would even go to medical school. Now, the internationally-recognized thoracic surgeon has been presented with the highest honor bestowed on faculty at the SOM: An Endowed Professorship.
His journey to this point in his career has been a circuitous one, with many twists and turns, and unintended fortuitous decisions that led him to a profession he loves. Upon graduating from Emmaus High School in Emmaus, PA, he chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania “because the first day of classes was later than any of the other schools he applied to.” He enrolled in Penn’s College of Engineering “because it was the only major that didn’t have a language requirement.” And, later, he went to medical school “because he was the only engineering student who didn’t want to become an engineer.” He acknowledged in his comments that his career path was “not exactly a well-choreographed series of strategic moves, but in the end it could not have worked out any better.”
Despite initially deciding he would never be a surgeon like his father, “He just worked too hard, I didn’t want to work that hard,” he ultimately realized the admiration he had for his father was inescapable and at his core he wanted to be just like him. With that inspiration, and exposure to some of the most gifted and dedicated mentors Harvard Medical School had to offer, Friedberg ultimately completed a total of 15 years of medical, surgical and research training at Harvard prior to starting his career as an academic thoracic surgeon. In Philadelphia for nearly 20 years, where Friedberg was a Professor of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania and a thoracic surgeon with an international reputation as an expert in the treatment of mesothelioma and other pleural malignancies, he is now at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as the Charles Reid Edwards, MD Professor of Surgery.
“The University of Maryland School of Medicine ranks in the top tier of medical schools nationally, and it has built an international reputation for clinical and research excellence,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland; the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor, and Dean of the School of Medicine. “Outstanding faculty members are critical to maintaining our standing in the top tier of medical schools nationwide. Endowed professorships, including the Charles Reid Edwards, MD Professorship, provide our excellent faculty members with critical resources needed to sustain and expand promising research, launch innovative clinical initiatives, and educate and train the physician-scientists of tomorrow.”
Many of Dr. Friedberg’s former colleagues came to share in his momentous day. “We were a new Program at the time and I consider him one of the founders of our thoracic surgery practice,” said David Sugarbaker, MD, Professor and Chief, Division of General Thoracic Surgery; Director, Lung Institute; and the Olga Keith Wiess Chair in Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, who chose Dr. Friedberg as the first Thoracic Track cardiothoracic surgery Fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I knew from the beginning that this individual was going to be a leader.”
Describing him as kind, honest, hard-working, and always with a sense of humor, Dr. Sugarbaker said “He truly brings a light to the bedside of every one of his patients.”
Also standing up for Dr. Friedberg was Stephen Hahn, MD, FASTRO, Head of the Division of Radiation Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Hahn worked with Dr. Friedberg for 14 years at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where Dr. Friedberg founded and directed the University of Pennsylvania Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, the first truly comprehensive program for malignant pleural mesothelioma in the United States. “Beyond his skill as premier thoracic surgeon, the defining characteristic of Joe is that always, and I mean always, did the right thing for his patients.” Hahn and Friedberg worked together closely, along with Melissa Culligan, RN MS, now Director of Clinical Research for the University of Maryland Division of Thoracic Surgery, to specialize in treating patients with “some of the most challenging problems thoracic oncology has to offer.”
The event was a celebration, with many of Dr. Friedberg’s family and friends in attendance. In his remarks, he thanked each one of them, as well as colleagues who have stood by his side along the way, including Lewis Chodosh, Judah Folkman, Ashby Moncure, William Wayne Montgomery, Ron Tompkins, Martin Yarmush, Les Ottinger, David Sugarbaker, Larry Kaiser, Whit Burrows, Jim Donahue, Melissa Culligan, Stephen Hahn and Shamus Carr, all who have been instrumental to his career.
“The person I would have wanted to be here more than any other is not here . . . my father,” Dr. Friedberg concluded his remarks with emotion. “I hope this makes him proud up there.”
In addition to Dr. Sugarbaker and Dr. Hahn, other speakers at the event included Dean Reece, and Stephen T. Bartlett, MD, The Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor and Chair of the The Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“I can truly say that I have never been surrounded by a more accomplished group of professionals than I am at the University of Maryland,” Dr. Friedberg said, praising both Dean Reece and Dr. Bartlett for their leadership.
In closing, Dr. Friedberg thanked his family members for their understanding of the demands of his profession. “Being a surgeon is the greatest of privileges,” he said. “That degree of responsibility for, and trust from, another person is indescribable. But it comes at a personal cost. It’s long hours…it’s not a predictable schedule, and many of us take our work home with us and die a little every time things don’t go perfectly with our patients. We can be difficult people as parents and partners. I have no doubt this career takes its toll on those around us, but without that support, without the love of the people we love, it wouldn’t be possible to do this type of work,” he said.
The Charles Reid Edwards Professorship was established through a bequest gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alston Gordon Lanham, in honor of Dr. Edwards. Dr. Lanham was a 1931 graduate of the School of Medicine. Dr. Edwards joined the School as a Clinical Professor of Surgery in 1931, and later became Professor of Surgery and Acting Head of the Department of Surgery from 1948 until 1955. “Their foresight made today possible, and their legacy through this gift will propel medical research forward in perpetuity,” said Darren Parker, Assistant Dean for Development. “Endowed professorships are among our top priorities and play a critical role in the success of our institution. The investiture ceremony is one small way to convey the School’s immense appreciation to donors and to demonstrate the power of philanthropy.”