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Pitt department to help advance next generation of plastic surgeons

| Monday, July 9, 2012, 12:07 a.m.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine stepped up training of next-generation plastic surgeons by starting a Department of Plastic Surgery, as top surgeons screen candidates for Pitt's first face transplant.

Dr. J. Peter Rubin, the department's inaugural chairman, said Pitt's decision reflects the growth of plastic surgery as an independent discipline and “the prominent role that the University of Pittsburgh has played in advancing the frontiers of this specialty.”

That includes skills such as body contouring after bariatric surgery, research on regenerative medicine for injured war veterans, and hand and face transplants.

“We are screening people right now for face transplants. It is really a question of finding the best candidates,” Rubin said.

As plastic surgery grew during the past two decades, so has the number of practitioners. The American Board of Plastic Surgery says the number of board-certified plastic surgeons doubled from 3,945 in 1990 to 7,943.

Pitt hopes to add to that number with a seven-year plastic surgery residency program that Rubin said is among the country's largest.

“We have 27 residents and five fellows,” he said, adding that many go on to practice in specialty areas such as pediatric plastic surgery and hand surgery.

A Pitt spokesman said the medical school started its residency program in plastic surgery in 1948 and since has trained 310 residents in its division of plastic surgery.

“The medical school's executive committee readily supported the transition, noting the atmosphere of collaborative research and educational rigor needed to succeed as an independent department,” said Dr. Arthur S. Levine, Pitt's senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the medical school.

“We're not just expanding our clinical reach. We're also expanding in research and innovation. We have four (National Institutes of Health) grants in three different labs that we have up and running and major clinical trials ongoing with the Department of Defense to help the Wounded Warrior program,” Rubin said.

The department includes 26 full-time faculty members, including five full-time researchers and 27 volunteer, adjunct and affiliated faculty members.

“Our program offers fellowship training in hand surgery, pediatric plastic surgery/craniofacial surgery, body contouring surgery and reconstructive microsurgery,” said Dr. Joseph Losee, vice chairman of the new department and co-director of the residency program.

“We really want to have broad impacts both on the lives of our patients in the Pittsburgh region and also on the practice of plastic surgery through innovative research and through a commitment to training our next generation of leaders in plastic surgery,” Rubin said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or

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