Get to Know: W. Darrin Clouse, MD, Chief, Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery

At a Glance

  • Title: Professor; Chief, Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery
  • Fellowship: Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Residency: Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center
  • Medical Degree: Mayo Medical School; Mayo Clinic College of Medicine

Darrin Clouse, MD, recently joined UVA Health System as Chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. He comes to UVA from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Prior to his time in Boston, he had a lengthy career in the U.S. Air Force, which included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Retiring from the military in 2014 at the rank of colonel, Clouse credits his time in the Air Force with shaping his medical career.

“Being in the military allows people to be leaders at a younger age than the civilian healthcare sector, so I had an opportunity to lead vascular programs, build hybrid operating rooms and develop multidisciplinary care centers in a way I never would have been able to at that age as a civilian,” he says. “Those opportunities came as part of my position as consultant to the Air Force surgeon general for vascular and endovascular surgery, which allowed me to engage in leadership direction and strategic planning focused on creation of endovascular and vascular surgery in the military.”

Read more about Clouse’s background and his goals for advancing vascular and endovascular surgery at UVA below.

What were your first impressions of UVA?

My first impressions of UVA were that it’s a world-class medical center. Everyone is very friendly and nice, and the patient care is phenomenal. Coming from a larger city, it’s a lot of fun to see world-class people in a more relaxed environment. That’s what struck me. It’s such a great town, with a welcoming university community and beautiful grounds. To be part of a world-class medical center so close to that environment just gives it a very special, unique feel.

What are some of your personal goals as a care provider and researcher that you felt you could best accomplish here at UVA?

The thing about UVA that really attracted me is the commitment of the institution and Department of Surgery to advancing surgical science and education — to really focus on the patient while still allowing providers to explore cutting-edge therapies and innovative technology.

What I’m hoping to do at UVA is advance vascular and endovascular surgery both from a technical standpoint — adopting more state-of-the-art, less invasive therapies — while also maintaining a tradition of outstanding open surgery for vascular disease. At the center of it all is doing what’s right for the patient, and developing that relationship. I also hope to really bolster the clinical research program, looking at patient-centered outcomes, and clinical effectiveness of vascular procedures, and to engage the translational and basic science community to advance vascular science at UVA. I’m particularly excited about our vascular surgery fellowship, continuing to educate and influence the lives of future leaders in the field.

Are there any technological advances that you’re particularly excited about?

Technological advances in vascular and endovascular surgery happen so quickly, almost on a weekly basis. What is really exciting to me is the less invasive therapies for extensive aortic aneurysm, carotid disease and complex lower extremity occlusive disease. Some of the newer venous technologies are really poised to offer patients improved outcomes with less morbidity.

One additional component that attracted me to UVA is the building of the new tower with operating rooms that have the newest imaging modalities providing radiographic imaging for guidance of less invasive procedures. This kind of technology is critical for the future treatment of vascular disease. With the building of this new tower, the Health System is demonstrating its commitment to these technological advances for patient care. This was really integral to my desire to come to UVA. The operating room of the future is going look very different from what we conceive of even today in terms of imaging guidance. In addition to fluoroscopic guidance, real-time MRI, CT and ultrasound guidance will continue to evolve for many of these types of procedures. UVA has a commitment to providing this type of advanced technology to treat patients. That was key to my desire to come here.

Tell us more about your clinical focus.

My interests lie primarily in two areas: one is cerebrovascular disease, including carotid stenosis and disease of the supra-aortic trunk arteries that originate from the aortic arch and supply blood to the brain and arms; the other is aortic disease, aneurysmal and occlusive. And I also am interested in treatment of mesenteric and renal artery pathologies.

Will you be continuing your research at UVA as well?

In short, you bet. Particularly in areas where I have clinical interest, focusing on outcomes research. But I also look forward to collaborating on many translational and basic levels within the department and institution.

Why did you choose to specialize in vascular and endovascular surgery?

I became interested in cardiovascular disease in medical school. Through the course of my medical school career, I met a vascular surgeon who was an associate dean of the Mayo Medical School. He really got me interested in vascular surgery. I was on an Air Force scholarship and he had attended the Air Force academy. He did his residency training at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center and then went to Mass General for fellowship. That ended up being exactly my course also. I became interested in vascular surgery because of a mentor taking me in and showing me how exciting and fulfilling treating and managing patients with vascular disease can be.

What are some of the challenges of caring for patients with vascular disease?

These patients have a very significant clinical problem that can be life and limb threatening. Or it can be relatively stable, but life altering. The challenge of treating these patients is really coming up with an individual care plan strategy to positively impact their life. That may involve medical therapy, less invasive procedures or an open operation. Many patients with vascular problems have coronary artery disease, lung disease, kidney disease … so managing patients through the vascular care process is quite challenging.

What makes UVA uniquely positioned to overcome these challenges of caring for patients with vascular disease?

UVA is uniquely positioned by the structured collaboration within the Heart and Vascular Center. It’s the mindset that we’re all together a team taking care of cardiovascular patients. The ability of the Heart and Vascular Center to take exceptional care of patients is enhanced in that we have vascular surgeons, vascular medicine specialists, cardiac surgeons, cardiologists and radiologists all focusing on the patients in a collaborative manner. Everyone is committed to treating the patient as a whole, managing them through whatever may happen.

How did your military career impact your role as a physician?

My time in the Air Force shaped my career more than I ever anticipated. When I was doing my surgical residency at Wilford Hall, I became quite in tune with active duty service. And then when I was doing my fellowship training at MGH, 9/11 happened. That was a very impactful time. When I finished fellowship and went back to the Air Force, I didn’t really appreciate what was going to happen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it would affect me. Ultimately I ended up serving two tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan. I really had to focus during this time on vascular injury and vascular trauma management. I ended up staying for a career in the Air Force. This was quite influential in my approach to patients, the way I thought about the world, and the way I viewed the people I work with. It altered my career path in a sense that’s hard to describe, but would never have occurred otherwise.

How would you describe the relationship between the vascular and endovascular surgeons on your team and primary care providers who refer patients to you?

One of the things that is really unique and important about vascular surgery is the longitudinal care required for patients with vascular disease. In many disease processes, surgeons might see a patient, correct a problem, take care of the patient until they are healed and then that event is over. But with vascular reconstructions, interventions or medical therapy, we continue to see patients on a routine basis for surveillance. We manage the problem, in many instances, throughout their life. In this sense, we really view ourselves as a resource and a help to the patient and a collaborator on their care team. Throughout the patient’s life, their bond with their primary care physician and other providers who care for them is critical. Our relationship with these folks on the care team is also imperative as we communicate and move through the longitudinal care of these patients together.

 

To refer a patient to the UVA Heart & Vascular Center, call 800.552.3723.