Spotlight on Dr. Upperman

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Spotlight on Dr. Upperman



My Biography

I chose to work in Pediatric Surgery because...

I developed a love of surgery during my medical training and pediatric surgery became a perfect match between my love of children and my enjoyment of performing surgery.  If I were to point to a specific point in my life where I made the decision to become a pediatric surgeon it was during assisting a more senior surgeon on one of my first procedures to correct a congenital anomaly in an infant.  I accompanied the senior surgeon out to see the family after the procedure.  Watching him be able to go up to this family and say the words, "Your baby is going to be OK" and see the joy spread over that family really typified for me what we refer to around here as providing the "80-year cure."    

I joined Children's Hospital Los Angeles because...

I decided to come to Los Angeles to be a part of a state-of-the-science, tertiary care, healthcare center that was a leader in pediatric disease and treatment.  I had experience working for the Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh and had recently been deployed from my military obligation as a Major in the United States Army Medical Corps serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 and was looking for other challenges.  I decided to explore potential opportunities in Southern California and was recruited to work at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.   

I come to work every day because...

I view what I do as the ultimate community service.  Coming to work every day, of course, pays the bills, but I am the kind of person who wants to be of service to the largest group of people possible. 

My Role at Children's

What my job means...

My mission in life has always been to provide outstanding healthcare for large groups of people.  I’ve never viewed my role as being a person who treats one particular disease at a time.  I've always looked at what I am doing and viewed it from the standpoint of "How can I design a program or a treatment or a cure that will provide help or assistance for hundreds or thousands of people?"  So, although my role here at Childrens Hospital involves a huge variety of activities during the day, it is often my teaching that brings me some of the greatest fulfillment because I know that, in creating a training program for students, I am potentially affecting hundreds and thousands of people.  Hopefully my greatest impact will be to shape the minds of younger surgeons who have an impact on future societies.

A typical day for me is like...

My typical day starts with getting up early in the morning and reviewing the email blasts from overnight.  I am involved in a number of national and international surgical organizations, so my first stop is to answer questions that are on the "virtual" desk that need my attention.  The conversations I have at my virtual desk are often with medical thought leaders throughout the region and nation and, less often, from around the world.

I will see patients in the morning.  Between patients, before, and after patients, I make time to deal with the administrative responsibilities of managing a busy pediatric trauma program and a budding disaster preparedness program.

I work with a vibrant set of medical staff on a daily basis including nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, managers from other units in the hospital, and administrative support staff who help me run programs on a day-in and day-out basis.

I come to work every day because...

I view what I do as the ultimate community service.  Coming to work every day, of course, pays the bills, but I am the kind of person who wants to be of service to the largest group of people possible.  What makes coming to work every day enjoyable is working with all of the amazing people here at Childrens Hospital.

Staff look to me for...

I would say that I serve as a mentor to our junior faculty and trainees.  My job is to be a compassionate and a reliabl colleague, a team player, and a leader for my staff.    

I feel my greatest contribution is...

There have been so many families that I have been able to serve here in such a brief period of time - families that are dealing with the need for a surgical intervention to help their child, dealing with having a child that will live with a potential disability, even dealing with death and dying. 

Although for me, many times the surgery I might provide for a child is pretty straight-forward from a medical standpoint, I think the greater issues that these families are dealing with creates these unique entry points where I am able to walk with them on this journey that may not be straightforward for them at all.  My role is to help them deal with the difficulties of today but also help them see the brighter tomorrows.  Its a stressful role but it is just as fulfilling as it is challenging.

What surgery is like for me...

Surgery is fun for me. It is an opportunity to be creative and fix things. In a way, it is a meditative activity – a time when I am allowed to put my entire attention in one place, without anyone else requesting anything of me.  If I’m on a week-long lecture tour, I find myself itching to get back to do surgery.

Strategic Initiatives

Extracurricular Training Creation

One of the things that I have particularly enjoyed has been my pro bono involvement with organizations such as the American College of Surgeons, the Association for Academic Surgery, the Society of University Surgeons.  Through these associations, I have helped build programs designed to help the young surgeon by providing a mentoring and nurturing environment for them.  

Translational Research

One of the things that I have put a large amount of effort into has been the development of a strong translational research program for the improvement of care for children who have experienced trauma.  I have authored nearly 50 peer-reviewed articles, extended abstracts, book chapters and invited manuscripts, and nearly 90 additional abstracts and presentations on pediatric trauma and surgical critical care. 

Pediatric Disaster Resource Center

Children's Hospital Los Angeles has long served as served as a resource hub for area hospitals who have worked with us to plan for pediatric disasters.  Currently, with a $5 milllion grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we are building our hospital's program into a multi-modal interdisciplinary effort that involves healthcare workers across our hospital as well as the region.  Together, we are developing a state-of-the science Pediatric Disaster Resource Center for educating healthcare workers and other important stakeholders on the special qualities, characteristics, and resources that are necessary to care for children in the face of chaos.

Center for the Study of Injury

One of the projects I would like to see expand significantly in the near future is the creation of a Center for the Study of Injury.  I envision this center focusing on, not only the best practices of acute injury, but also research-based perspectives on injury.  We have 50 faculty members between our hospital and the University of Southern California who are experts in their own area of preventing  the effects of trauma and injury.  My goal is to see the hospital create a Center that would bring together all of these resources and serve as a national resource for injury.


Medical School
New Jersey Medical School/University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Internship & Residency
University Hospital, New Jersey Medical School; General Surgery

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; Pediatric Surgery

Surgery; American Board of Surgery, Pediatric Surgery; American Board of Surgery