When C. Burcin Taner, M.D., wants to wind down, you will often find him in the kitchen.
Dr. Taner, a transplant surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, loves performing his own rendition of the Food Network’s reality TV show “Chopped”: opening the fridge, seeing what is available, then trying to create a meal out of the limited ingredients on hand.
“I love to cook—it’s a relaxation method for me, like active yoga,” Dr. Taner says.
Dr. Taner is not only an innovator in the kitchen, but also in transplantation research. He and colleagues were seeing that outcomes for patients transplanted with livers from donation after cardiac death (DCD) were not as good as outcomes for donation after brain death (DBD), and they gathered data to figure out why this was the case. They pinpointed the problem and made adjustments such that outcomes for livers procured from the two sources became equivalent.
These findings and their resulting medical journal publications were practice-changing, allowing the 10-20 percent of organs donated currently arising from DCD to be used for patients needing organs. Dr. Taner is considered one of the world experts in DCD, a transplant type not yet practiced at all transplant centers.
Dr. Taner is also a pacesetter in healthcare delivery enhancement, researching methods to improve efficiency and speed of delivering care to transplant patients. For example, Dr. Taner and his colleague Andrew Keaveny, M.D., have researched how to get hospitalized transplant patients back home as soon as possible by identifying patients ready to leave the hospital earlier than previously used protocol. The goal of this project is to tailor care to the individual patient’s medical condition.
In his role as surgeon, Dr. Taner followed in the footsteps of his father, a general surgeon.
“I grew up seeing my father go do surgery in the middle of the night,” he says. “In high school, I thought, ‘Just because my father’s in medicine, why should I become a doctor?’”
He realized toward the end of secondary school, however, that he really liked helping people and that medicine was the career path he wanted to pursue.
“Maybe it’s genetics,” he quips.
Dr. Taner attended medical school in Turkey, the country where he spent his childhood, followed by a surgical residency at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, Minnesota. During this residency, he was exposed to some of the problems patients face with organ failure and how it affects them, motivating him to pursue a career in transplantation to contribute solutions. He then completed a transplant surgery fellowship at Mayo, including a two-month rotation at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Jacksonville, Florida.
Throughout Dr. Taner’s transplant fellowship, Charles Rosen, M.D., transplant surgeon and director of the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center in Minnesota, served as a key mentor to him.
“Chuck really supported me, showed me the right way to operate and take care of patients,” he says.
Following his fellowship and what Dr. Taner says amounted to “almost a two-month job interview” during his Florida stint, he applied for an abdominal transplant surgical position open there and got the job. Since that time, he’s seen the liver transplant program he’s part of at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus become one of the largest in the U.S.
Dr. Taner performs about 75 percent of his surgical cases in the middle of the night, as organ procurement is usually scheduled after other cases are completed. To keep the surgical team going, he employs some unique tactics.
“When you’re a transplant surgeon and operating at odd hours of the day and night, you need to keep everybody on the team sharp,” he says, indicating he is known to play 80s pop music in the OR and ask up to 30-40 trivia questions on music from this era.
Dr. Taner also serves as chair of the Department of Transplantation at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida. In this role he oversees 150 employees, including clinical and research activities for 30 physicians.
Dr. Taner calls being a department chair “a 24/7 job,” which can be filled with the unexpected.
In addition to his roles as department chair and transplant surgeon, Dr. Taner is a member of the Executive Operations Team at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, overseeing day-to-day site functions and future projects. He views this role as one where he puts aside his transplant surgeon “hat” and thinks about what’s good for the Florida campus as a whole.
Dr. Taner loves Mayo Clinic due to the teamwork and an environment where the patient comes first and everything else follows, a philosophy in which he strongly believes.
Looking to the future of transplant medicine, Dr. Taner is excited.
“I think there’s great future for transplant in terms of it mixing with regenerative medicine,” he says. “That is really to catch patients before they have organ failure. That should really be the goal of transplant: even though we love to transplant organs, prevention of organ failure should be the goal, actually. That’s the most exciting part about transplant: the dealing with problems at the cellular level, not at the organ level, and understanding what happens at the cellular level and interfering with appropriate medications or techniques to reverse the process.”
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