About the Section of Surgical Sciences

Seth Karp, MD

For nearly 100 years, the mission of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Section of Surgical Sciences has been to provide the finest quality care to patients, solve surgical problems that change practice, and educate the next generation of health care providers.  

Our Section consists of seven Departments and ten Divisions:

The Section is home to more than 240 clinical and research faculty, 118 residents, and 19 fellows.  

Clinical Programs

Our clinical programs are large and innovative. We perform over 25,000 operations per year at multiple locations, including our main VUMC campus, ambulatory surgical centers, and Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital.   

Each Department features expertise in high-complexity and referral surgery. Notable programs include one of the largest adult and pediatric transplant programs in the country, including live-donor liver transplantation, and innovative use of donors for heart and lung transplants. Our cardiac programs feature complex hybrid structural heart care and congenital cardiac surgery. Our vascular program specializes in advanced endovascular techniques as well as open surgery. We are an American College of Surgeons designated Level I Trauma Center, with nearly 5,000 patient admissions per year, and leadership in national and community injury and burn care. Surgical oncology features innovative programs including the hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion program (HIPEC). Colorectal surgery excels in enhanced-recovery after surgery (ERAS), achieving some of the shortest lengths of stay and lowest opioid use in the country. Oral and maxillofacial surgery is a pioneer in temporomandibular joint total joint arthroplasty and management of skeletal facial deformities. Neurological surgery features comprehensive integrated cerebrovascular care, complex brain tumor, spine, and deep brain stimulation. Pediatric surgery provides complex oncologic care, fetal surgery, and national leadership in trauma. Plastic surgery programs of excellence include cleft and craniofacial repair, free-flap reconstruction, breast reinnervation, a growing multidisciplinary transgender practice, and hand surgery. Thoracic surgery specializes in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), diaphragmatic re-animation, minimally-invasive techniques, and lung cancer screening and treatment.  

Our active robotic program employs seven robots for thoracic and abdominal operations. We actively encourage and use telehealth platforms, especially for patients in rural areas.

We are proud of our collaborations with multiple departments across VUMC. Notable among these are the NCI-Designated Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), providing patients with access to innovative clinical trials, and the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE), which brings new therapies and imaging technologies to patients.  


In the 1930s, seminal work by Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas in the surgical research laboratories at Vanderbilt advanced our understanding of the mechanisms of shock. This led to unprecedented improvements in battlefield treatment of soldiers and formed the basis for the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt for cyanotic heart disease.  

We are perennially one of the most successful in the nation in competing for NIH and other funding. Research encompasses an enormous range of surgically-relevant projects. The Section leverages and actively supports collaborations with some of the world’s foremost researchers and institutes here at VUMC and at Vanderbilt University, including VICC and VISE.  

Basic science programs include cancer biology with a focus on gastric, pancreatic, thyroid, and colonic malignancy, metabolism including obesity, and organ regeneration.  

Translational programs investigate, among other topics, colorectal cancer, Intensive Care Unit delirium, trauma, ECMO, aortopathy, valvular heart disease, and patency of arterial bypass. Our organ repair and regeneration work focuses on increasing organ availability using novel perfusion strategies including human-xeno cross circulation. As a national leader in personalized medicine, VUMC resources in genetics and genomics support multiple surgically relevant studies, among them circulating DNA to detect cancer and predict tumor recurrence and peritoneal metastases. The Section also supports a unique implantable artificial kidney technology program.

Clinical research programs are varied. We draw on VUMC's world class medical records and informatics infrastructure for support, and actively collaborate with the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services Research. Projects include research in disparities in access to care and health literacy with a particular focus on children. We are active in national organ donation policy, a leading center in the United States circulatory determination of death heart trial, hepatitis C transplant donors and recipients, outcomes research, palliative care, imaging, informatics, lung cancer screening, and ERAS. Mobile health applications are of particular interest, especially given the large number of rural patients we serve.  

Individual research programs can be explored at our Section Research webpage.


The Section of Surgical Sciences is home to a large general surgery, neurosurgery, oral & maxillofacial surgery, and plastic surgery residency programs, and fellowships in adult and pediatric craniofacial surgery, bariatric and minimally invasive surgery, breast surgery, cardiac and thoracic surgery with early specialization, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, pediatric surgery, transplantation, trauma and surgical critical care, and vascular surgery. A robust and varied operative caseload is supplemented by a simulation curriculum at our Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment (CELA). Assessments are competency based. A vigorous robotic curriculum includes hands-on simulation and multiple-user robots.  

Our goal is to train great clinicians to be leaders who will advance the practice of surgery on a national or international level. We facilitate two or more additional years during residency for those who wish an in-depth experience in research, advanced clinical work, international health, or other post-graduate education and training.  Section Education

Global Surgery Initiatives

Vanderbilt surgeons have a long history of global action. Led by founding members of Vanderbilt International Surgery (VIS), John and Margaret Tarpley, the Section maintains strong active collaborations across the world. Dr. Tarpley is current head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Botswana and played a key role in the development of the General Surgery Residency Program there.

VIS maintains ongoing relationships with AIC Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. All Vanderbilt senior general surgery residents have the opportunity for a 1-month elective away rotation with Kijabe-based surgeons who hold clinical adjunct faculty appointments in the Section.

Our neurosurgeons are also highly active internationally with collaborative research projects in Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania. The group leads a neurotrauma course in Sri Lanka and travels to Peru to treat children with complex craniofacial anomalies.

The Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) Residency Program offers a Bogota, Colombia rotation in cleft and craniofacial surgery sponsored by the Colombian Air National Guard. This experience features experience at a busy cleft/craniofacial and oral and maxillofacial surgery service at modern, well-equipped hospitals, as well as the opportunity to travel to remote outreach clinics.

Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion 

We recognize the fundamental and essential truth that a broad range of experience and thought allows us to deliver on each of our key missions and strengthens our community. Led by our Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Raeshell Sweeting, the Section focuses on being intentional at all times in recruitment, leadership opportunities, approach to patient care, research, and education. Please click here to find out more about these efforts.

Physical Wellness

Healthy providers promote healthy patients. Both the Section and VUMC provide extensive support to enhance faculty and staff health. Please click here to find out more about these resources. 

Thank you for visiting our web page. Please have a look around, and feel free to contact us if we can be of service.

Best regards,

Seth J. Karp, MD
Chair, Section of Surgical Sciences