Dr. Fabrizio Michelassi is honored for Clinical Excellence at The National Physician of the Year Awards

Dr. Fabrizio Michelassi is internationally recognized as an outstanding clinician, researcher, and teacher – whose vision and leadership is setting new standards for academic university medical departments.

Dr. Michelassi was born and grew up in Pisa, Italy. His grandfather was a doctor, and as a boy he accompanied him on house calls, inspiring him to become a doctor in his own right. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Pisa School of Medicine, he completed his internship and general surgery residency at New York University.

After completing a research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, he joined the faculty of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago in 1984, serving as Vice Chair of and the Thomas D. Jones Professor of Surgery.

In 2004 he moved to New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center to assume the Chairmanship of the Department of Surgery. Under his leadership, and with continuous support from the Hospital and Medical College leadership, the department has undergone an unprecedented period of growth and transformation, adding important new clinical programs and strengthening both the educational curriculum and the research initiatives.

As a surgeon, he has developed an international reputation in the surgical treatment of gastrointestinal and pancreatic cancers, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. He has pioneered a novel bowel-sparing procedure for advanced Crohn’s disease, the “”Michelassi Strictureplasty,”” which has significantly improved the quality of life for these patients worldwide.

A prolific author and teacher, Dr. Michelassi has been an active member in more than 50 professional societies, has served as president of seven of them; and he is currently the Chair of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons. Despite his many responsibilities, Dr. Michelassi continues his work integrating clinical, education and research into a dynamic, unified vision of patient care.

A Personal Perspective
by Stuart Diamond, Editor-in-Chief, Empowered Doctor

When you first meet Dr. Fabrizio Michelassi you are struck by a host of notable traits. He is personable, clearly intelligent and knowledgeable, with a reassuring confidence. His slightly accented English, cosmopolitan persona and good looks make it seem as though he could have walked off the set from a top-rated television program about big-city hospitals. The rapport is instant. As one who interviews people for a living, I understand the importance of rapport, and Dr. Michelassi is a master of the art of simpatico. It’s no accident – his ability to build rapport, to make another comfortable, patient as well as journalist, is an important part of his success as a physician. Yes, he is the Department Chair of one of the world’s leading surgical centers, an innovative surgeon and administrator, and a highly respected teacher and mentor. But when in his presence, you feel as though you are the only one he cares about. And I am sure that this palpable empathy extends to each and every one of his patients.

As the conversation develops, one learns just how elemental this ability to create an authentic bond with the patient is to his philosophy of practicing medicine — not only to his own personal philosophy, but as a basic precept that he emphasizes to his students.

As you listen to Dr. Michelassi tell his own life story, you begin to understand how this accord between doctor and patient is key. The story begins in Pisa, Italy, where he was born. His grandfather was a family doctor — a man who had survived World War I, as a surgeon trying to mend the carnage of the Austrian/Italian front – one of the most savage and bloody battlefields in all of history. After the war, he settled down in a village near Pisa to raise his family and begin his practice as a general practioner. As a young boy Fabrizio would accompany him on house calls. Though his grandfather had very little to offer his patients in actual medical remedies – at least compared to the options available today– he would often simply sit by their side on the bed and hold their hands. More often than not, the patients would get better. Perhaps it was a bit of placebo, and yes, most illnesses simply take their course, but his gift of touch facilitated a healing effect.

I have heard similar stories before. Many doctors will acknowledge that it is the patient who does the work — they are simply a midwife to a patient’s own healing. But there was one additional insight that came forth in Dr. Michelassi’s telling. Without fail, every patient and/or family gave thanks– even if there was no money. There was always a slice of cake or a cup of coffee.

It made one think: At the very core of any interaction between physician and patient, there is always the personal relationship. Perhaps the most effective medical-healing practice includes the opportunity for the patient to give back. That in some way healing at its most effective includes a virtuous cycle – from physician to patient and back again.

However, part of the challenge of our hi-tech medical world — with the advent of the maze of new technologies — is that it is becoming harder and harder for physician and patient to see each other through the ramparts of wires, tubes and panels– no less actually develop a personal connection.

This is where Dr. Michelassi truly excels. He certainly is a proponent of the latest technologies. (For example, he is proud of New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell’s patient simulation lab that he championed. I had a chance to visit the “”star-trek”” space filled with robotized mannequins that simulated human biological responses, providing medical students with real time, life-like medical scenarios.)

But through all the technical miracles, Dr. Michelassi keeps true to a core principle. Good medicine begins with a sacred and empathetic relationship of trust – between physician and patient. So when you do meet Dr. Michelassi, we might surmise that his greatest gift is the legacy he shares with his grandfather. The ability to ask a simple question: “”How are you today?”” And the skill to truly listen, to observe, and only then to understand.