Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Surgical careers after PhD

What happens after doing a PhD – does it impact on your career as a Surgeon?  Each edition we will feature a surgeon who has completed a PhD and how this has impacted on their subsequent career.

Mr James Lee

Combining a clinical and research career in Endocrine Surgery

James Lee is a consultant endocrine surgeon at The Alfred and Monash Health. In 2014, he successfully completed a PhD on microRNA biomarkers of thyroid cancer at The University of Sydney. He currently holds the position of Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Central Clinical School Department of Surgery, through which he continues to advance his interest in surgical research and education.

Upon completion of clinical fellowships at Austin Health (Melbourne) and Royal North Shore Hospital (Sydney), James embarked on a laboratory-based PhD to study the potential role of miRNA in the management of thyroid cancer. In his studies, James investigated the miRNA expression profiles of papillary thyroid cancer in subgroups of patients. The thesis also examined the potential utility of circulating miRNA molecules as a biomarker of recurrence. His studies showed that both tissue and circulating miRNAs have the potential to be biomarkers of thyroid cancer recurrence. James’ doctoral work also suggested that thyroid cancer cells seem to use miRNA-containing exosomes as a form of inter-cellular signaling.

Through his doctoral studies, not only was James able to gain a deeper understanding of the thyroid cancer disease process, he was also able to enhance his appreciation of the rigours of the scientific methods. As a result, his skills and understanding in the pre-clinical research fields, combined with his clinical training, put him in an ideal position to lead translational research projects. With close collaboration between clinicians and scientists, a translational research team can implement bench research findings to improve patient care, as well as take clinical problems from the bedside, and solve them in the laboratory. James is currently in the process of setting up a thyroid cancer research group to conduct further translational studies in the fields of miRNA and exosomes.

Another one of James’ passions is surgical education. He has recently established and run a very successful Monash University short course “An Introduction to Surgical Research”. It is hoped that this course will become an annual event. James is currently the Younger Fellows Representative in the RACS Section of Academic Surgery Committee, and is the convener of the Annual Academic Workshops in November. At the Alfred, James enjoys mentoring surgical trainees and residents who have an interest in research, and helping them with their clinical research projects. This year, James has joined the organising committee of the Biannual Alfred General Surgery Meeting.

In recognition of his work, James has recently been awarded the prestigious Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Foundation for Surgery Senior Lecturer Fellowship. One such fellowship is awarded each year to a Fellow of the College who is deemed by their peers to have made, and is likely to continue to make, significant contributions to academic surgery. James is excited and humbled by the award, which will help him further his career in academic surgery.
More information on James’ research and publications at:

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