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Physician Resource

Get to Know: Chair of Surgery, Martha A. Zeiger, MD, FACS

At a Glance

  • S. Hurt Watts Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery
  • Undergraduate Degree: Brown University
  • Medical Degree: University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • Commander and Surgeon: The United States Navy
  • Surgery Residency: Maine Medical Center
  • Surgical Oncology Fellowship: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

On September 1 2017, Martha A. Zeiger, MD, joined the University of Virginia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery, making her one of just 19 women currently leading surgical departments in the United States. Zeiger comes from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she was a Professor of Surgery, Oncology, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs. While at Johns Hopkins, Zeiger gained international prominence as a leader in endocrine surgery and thyroid cancer research, leading an NIH-funded molecular biology laboratory for over 20 years. She is also currently President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons.

What led you to take this position at UVA?
I was initially drawn to UVA by virtue of its reputation and the reputation of both Dr. Irving Kron and the surgery department. The faculty are all superb surgeons and researchers, highly accomplished academically and nationally prominent in their fields. During the interview process, I became even more impressed with the depth and talent in the department as well as within the School of Medicine. Furthermore, I found the leadership in the School of Medicine, Medical Center and Health System to be visionary in their approach to the rapid changes occurring in American medicine today.

Do you have general goals for the future of the department?
Clinically, we are very solid with superb and very experienced surgeons, and in many areas we are at the forefront of state-of-the-art surgical care. We will continue to make that a priority. In addition, we also have several NIH-funded scientists and surgeon-scientists with an extensive research portfolio. I plan to expand the research enterprise in ways that further the strategic goals of the Medical Center. In addition, we are very proud of our highly sought-after and prominent surgical residency and diverse surgical fellowships.

You have had an active research portfolio. Could you tell us about that?
I have focused my entire research career on clinical dilemmas facing patients with thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. I believe this was the result of my mother having to undergo thyroid surgery when I was a young teenager for a suspicious thyroid lesion. Fortunately, the lesion turned out to benign, but it was very impactful for me. My research colleagues and I continue to focus on the molecular biology of thyroid cancer and still have several very exciting ongoing projects.

What did you take from your experience in the Navy and how has it shaped your approach to medicine or your new post?
Having served for 6 years in the United States Navy as General Medical Officer, Commander and Surgeon in San Diego, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., taught me how to assimilate quickly with people from all types of backgrounds, whether socio-economic, religious, racial and ethnic. It also taught me how to enter complex and new situations and organizations relatively seamlessly and how to gain the trust of others and lead in uncertain situations. It was truly a very rich and rewarding experience.

You have devoted a good deal of your time and energy to postdoctoral education and the education of endocrine surgery fellows. What is it about reaching out to young people at this stage of their careers that attracts you? Why is it important?
Educating and guiding young students and surgical trainees is one of the most important endeavors we surgeon-scientists and educators do. They are our future and the future of our patients and, if we guide and train them well, they will realize even more improvements and discoveries during their career. For these very reasons I find mentoring and program development two of the most rewarding things we do.

What do you enjoy doing in the time left you have for yourself?
I love reading, particularly historical fiction and books about World War II. My father served in that war and, actually, had been the engineer on the USS Indianapolis. A book I really enjoyed recently was “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, which is about the experiences of a blind French girl and a young German soldier. It is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. I am also enjoying exploring the Charlottesville area. My husband, Dr. John Britton, and I have already hiked in the Blue Ridge Mountains as we very much enjoy sports and the outdoors. I find Charlottesville offers a lovely small city feel with a surrounding magnificent countryside.


To refer a patient to UVA, call 800.552.3723.

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