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Matthew Pierce, MD, certainly understands that not everyone has fond memories of their high school biology dissection assignments. Yet, that’s where his path toward becoming a physician began.
“I really enjoyed them, and my teacher suggested I consider surgery as a career,” the Dallas-area native explains, adding that his choice of sub-specialty took a little longer. It wasn’t until his medical school rotation in Otolaryngology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston that the direction became clear.
“I liked the versatility of the procedures, and the types of patients we saw,” Dr. Pierce says. He adds that the discipline, which also goes by the more common and less tongue-twisting name of ear, nose and throat (ENT), also appealed to his personality.
“ENT surgeons can be classic ‘Type A’s,’ but I noticed most ENT surgeons were very approachable and love their job,” he says, adding with a laugh. “That may not be true for everyone, of course, but I really do enjoy my work.”
That’s particularly true when treating cancer patients, which became Dr. Pierce’s clinical focus during his otolaryngology residency at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and his fellowship in head and neck oncology surgery and microvascular reconstruction at Yale University. He uses a variety of tools, including robotics and lasers to treat all types of benign and malignant tumors of the head and neck.
Other Fields of Interest
Indeed, Dr. Pierce considers treating cancer to be the most rewarding aspect of his work as an attending physician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. A close second may well be education. A current research project is exploring ways to reduce post-procedure complications among patients who have undergone tracheostomies and surgical airways. He also spends much of his time teaching trainees including medical students and residents.
Dr. Pierce also has a longstanding interest in bringing his skills to disadvantaged areas around the globe, with medical trips having taken him to Ecuador, Bolivia, and American Samoa. Last year, he joined a medical team from Yale on a trip to the University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical School in Durban, South Africa.
“They have great surgeons there, but only limited resources in certain areas,” Dr. Pierce says, adding that he’s seen his role on the trips evolve from surgeon to teacher. Along with providing professional lectures on various head and neck diseases, he also discussed ways to increase public awareness of these conditions, and urge them seek early treatment when symptoms arise.
While Dr. Pierce hopes to make international service a regular part of his career, his next overseas visit will have to wait. Along with a busy clinical schedule, he recently became engaged to an operating room nurse at Yale, who now works at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
“You can imagine how we met,” he says, adding that he and his fiancé try to keep “shop talk” to a minimum while spending time outdoors on hiking and camping trips.
Still, when the time is right for an overseas medical trip, Dr. Pierce will be ready to dig out his passport and pack his bags for whatever destination may need him.
“Opportunities for cancer surgeons aren’t as common as those in other disciplines,” he says, “but I’m open to going anywhere I can make a difference.”