An Interview with the 2021 SNACC Distinguished Service Award Recipient George Mashour MD, PhD
This month we have the distinct honor of interviewing George Mashour MD, Ph.D., the 2021 recipient of the SNACC Distinguished Service Award. This award recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the field of Neurosciences in Anesthesiology and Critical Care. Dr. Mashour is the Robert B. Sweet Professor of Anesthesiology and Chair of the Anesthesiology Department at the University of Michigan. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and completed his residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School prior to doing a fellowship in Neurosurgical Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan. He is a two-time Fulbright Scholar and has subsequently become one of the most funded anesthesiologists in the country, receiving multiple NIH grants through numerous mechanisms. He has dedicated his career to understanding consciousness and the impact that sleep and anesthesia have on the conscious state. His research has been published in some of the most prominent journals in medicine, and his accomplishment continues with a recent induction into the National Academy of Medicine. We congratulate Dr. Mashour on this latest award from SNACC.
1. Why did you originally join SNACC?
I entered the field of anesthesiology because of its neuroscientific implications and was drawn immediately to Neuroanesthesiology. I knew even as a resident that SNACC was the home for neuroscientists in anesthesiology, so I joined as soon as I entered my fellowship in Neuroanesthesiology. SNACC has played a vital role in my academic development.
2. How did the focus of your career and research efforts become consciousness?
I became deeply interested in consciousness as a junior in college while reading the 1781 treatise “The Critique of Pure Reason” by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. I decided at that point that I wanted to devote my career to studying consciousness, which ultimately led me to neuroscience and anesthesiology. It is difficult to believe that an interest that developed more than 30 years ago still compels me today, but I am very grateful that I have been able to meaningfully incorporate the study of consciousness into my career.
3.What contribution to the field of neuroanesthesia are you most proud of, and what are two of the most important take away points from your body of work for the neuroanesthesiologist?
Focusing specifically on contributions to the neuroscience of anesthesiology, I would say that I am particularly proud of our multidisciplinary team effort that resulted in (1) the first application of formal network science to the study of anesthetic state transitions and (2) arguably the first identification of a common neural correlate of ketamine, propofol, and sevoflurane anesthesia that was predicted based on the neurobiology of consciousness. These have been reproducible contributions that have helped link the science of consciousness with the science of anesthetic-induced unconsciousness.
4.What has been the key to your success as a researcher and clinician, particularly early in your career?
There is an old saying in University of Michigan football— “The Team, The Team, The Team.” Coupling a strong passion for the subject of consciousness with a talented group of multidisciplinary investigators enabled me to be productive during my early years as a faculty member. It is never too early to start building your team.
5.You recently published an article in ASA Monitor discussing how academic anesthesiology is under threat. Your career has, to this point, really been within this space, and you discuss in the article actively cultivating excellence. What are the best ways to cultivate excellence?
I believe that the academic mission of all disciplines is currently vulnerable because of the many clinical and operational demands of 21st century healthcare. I do not have a trivial answer to the question of how to cultivate excellence, but I believe that having a strong, broad, and positive vision for the future is critically important. We need to help our colleagues see where the field can go, then provide them with the resources and mentorship to get there.
6. Along those lines, in academics, we are often under significant pressure to publish and obtain funding. This, at times, has the potential to impact the quality of work. How do you guide your junior faculty in approaching these challenges of focusing on quality over quantity?
Again, I think the team-based focus is important because you can enhance both quality and efficiency by drawing on a community of scholars focused on similar themes as you. There is no doubt that it is important to publish, especially as a junior faculty member trying to get promoted. But I also think that we can “diversify the portfolio” (as they say in the investment world) to couple short- and medium-term goals with more accessible projects (that can still be of high quality) with longer-term and more ambitious scientific goals. Again, no easy answers can be provided to achieve this balance, but at the departmental level, I have been explicit in stating that I will not mind if the publication number goes down year after year as long as the richness and quality of the scholarly product goes up.
7.What is your mentorship style, and what should a mentee expect from their mentor?
For me, mentorship is a deep personal commitment that requires dedication until the goals of the mentee are achieved. Being a mentor means defining your success in terms of how those around you are succeeding. It is important to identify mentors who demonstrate an authentic interest in the success (and well-being) of others, a sense of commitment and accessibility despite a busy schedule, and a track record of helping others reach their goals.