Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Karsten Fliegner started his medical career as an aspiring research scientist. Rather than pursuing the standard MD or DO degree, Dr. Fliegner went one step further and added a PhD to his list of degrees. Through a PhD and MD program with the National Institute of Health, Dr. Fliegner planned to begin a career where he could mix his love for practicing medicine with his passion for research.
However, Dr. Fliegner found himself drawn to the field of cardiology. “I was really interested in the cardiothoracic system. It made so much sense when you looked at the system and how drugs and surgeries worked with them.” Dr. Fliegner recognized that the time he enjoyed most while completing his training were the days in surgery. So while he had no intention of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon, it is just what he became.
A Surgeon’s Lifestyle
When it came to changing his career path, Dr. Fliegner admitted that the lifestyle and pace of a surgeon was better suited for him than that of a researcher. “I appreciate the immediate gratification of surgery. I can take patients through diagnostic workups, surgery, and then have them home and feeling better quickly. In contrast to research, surgery can quickly impact people. In research, it could take years and years before what you work on has a way to help people,” he said.
The differences in each case that he sees and the variety of unique procedures that he completes also keep Dr. Fliegner passionate about his surgical work. “Every case is different, and really even the same type of procedure is unique because each patient has his or her own needs.” Additionally, there is no end to developing new knowledge and skills. “We are always learning new procedures and techniques,” said Dr. Fliegner. “It is a little disconcerting and takes you outside of your comfort zone, but that’s what makes it exciting.”
Technologies Influence on Medicine
One part of research that Dr. Fliegner took with him into practicing medicine is his urge to continually keep learning about new ways to advance his practice, and technology is a critical piece to this. “Technology has changed how we approach medicine,” Dr. Fliegner said. “The detail that we can get today from a 3D echocardiogram has drastically improved valve care.” He also talks about how medical technology like echocardiograms can now interact with computers, allowing physicians to view images and results on desktops.
“You have to make the time to learn about this,” Dr. Fliegner said. Though most surgeons already have full days, staying up-to-date on the most advanced technologies and techniques is critical to a surgeon’s ability to help his or her patients. This is where Dr. Fliegner’s research background helps him in his practice. “I think it has made me a better scientist,” Dr. Fliegner said. “It taught me to think very critically. I am cautious about what new procedures are worth adopting and what will have the most impact for my patients.”
Why Crittenton Hospital
In such a people-focused field like medicine, Dr. Fliegner admitted that one of the most important parts of a hospital is the people. For him, one of the most appealing benefits of Crittenton is the staff. “Everyone is nice and friendly. The ICU nurses, the office staff, and administrators. Everyone is pleasant to work with and the building itself is a beautiful place. It is up-to-date, well kept, and just a pleasant place to be. It’s a gem. It’s an exciting time to be at Crittenton.”
When he is not at Crittenton or practicing medicine, Dr. Fliegner enjoys spending time with his family. He also enjoys playing the guitar and reading, particularly history books. “My father was an immigrant and my mother’s parents were both immigrants. I’m always curious to see how we got to where we are today,” he said.
Advice for a Healthy Life
When asked what health advice he’d recommend to his community, Dr. Fliegner says without question it is to maintain a better diet. “In general, people have too much pop, too much processed sugars.” He says that cleaning up one’s diet is a relatively easy way to start improving your health.
Dr. Karsten Fliegner is a cardiothoracic surgeon. His practice offers a full spectrum of cardiothoracic care including new technologies like minimally invasive and robotic surgery.