William Hawkins, MD is associate professor in the Department of Surgery, in the Hepatobiliary-Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Surgery Section. He specializes in benign and malignant diseases of the liver, biliary tract, pancreas and stomach utilizing multi-modality treatments and minimally invasive techniques, whenever possible. In addition Dr. Hawkins also specializes in the management of soft-tissue sarcomas.
Dr. Hawkins sees patients in the Center for Advanced Medicine at 4921 Parkview Place on the eighth floor in suite C.
FOR AN APPOINTMENT, PLEASE CALL (314) 362-7046.
What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty?
My interest in cancer actually started very early in childhood. I am named after my grandfather, who died of stomach cancer the same year I was born.
From the stories about him I could tell that he was one of the most dynamic and interesting people I never had the privilege to know. I grew up thinking that someone ought to do something about cancer.
In college I was interested in the research aspect of cancer and was trying to find a career were I could do something to help others. Medical school seemed like the logical choice and surgery appealed to me because it was technically very challenging and provided a mechanism where I could combine my love for research with patient care.
I had some luck in finding great mentors along the way which contributed greatly to shaping my practice and research approaches. Although I am working diligently in the lab to find alternatives, surgery is still the single most effective therapy for solid organ cancers.
|Dr. Hawkins with two of his children
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
I think that the most interesting aspect of the practice is the patients and their families. Anyone that comes to see me for cancer is going through a time of great personal crisis.
It continues to amaze me how almost every one of my patients rises to face these life threatening challenges with incredible personal strength. I have met some of the most interesting, bravest, generally just great people through my practice.
I think the most interesting part of my practice is getting to know my patients and being able to give them the tools, whether it is with surgery or medical management, to help them through this time.
I get to interact with their family members, often their children, since these diseases generally affect those between the ages of 50 and 70+. I become very involved with their lives for the duration of the fight and I find this most rewarding.
Where are you from?
I grew up on the beaches of Long Island, New York. I had a very wonderful childhood. Our home was a seven-minute bike ride from some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country. We lived about 45 minutes outside of New York City.
My wife is also a native Long Islander. Her family has owned a farm in the East Hampton area since the early 1800s. They were one of the original families to settle there. I attended medical school and met my wife at Stony Brook University also on Long Island.
After college I spent 5 years of my surgery training at two Harvard hospitals making Boston my home away from home. I did two fellowships specializing in cancer in Manhattan at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Except for vacations I have never left the East Coast for any extended periods of time.
What brings you to Washington University?
Since I spent so much of my life on the East Coast, you probably wonder how I happen to be here in the Midwest. My goal has been to make advances in the care of patients with these difficult cancers.
At the present time Washington University represents the single best opportunity to do that. This place is unique and has a wealth of resources. In addition to a great hospital it has a nationally recognized cancer center, a superb medical school and a sizable patient population for which it provides healthcare.
In order to make progress and do research in these diseases it is very important to have access to a large volume of patients. There is also an advantage for the patient to have a surgeon that specializes in these highly technical operations.
Over half of the cases we see are referred by other area surgeons because of the complexity.
Studies have shown that surgeons that perform a high volume of these highly complex procedures have better results. And the advantage includes the experienced nurses and intensive care unit staff, who have developed a high level of expertise resulting from caring for a large number of patients with difficult surgical problems.
At the present time I don’t think there is a better place for treatment and research anywhere in the country.
What award/achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my marriage and children. My daughter is six years old and my two sons are four years old and three months old. But if you are referring to early successes I would have to say I am most proud of my Eagle Scout award.
It was most fulfilling, because I decided I wanted to become an Eagle Scout. It was my first taste of hard, challenging work that resulted in success and recognition. It was very worthwhile and we completed a great project of building a playground for handicapped children.
I have other successes and honors that anyone who attended Harvard and was chosen for fellowships can list on their resume, but I feel that nothing is as sweet as the very first goal you set for yourself and accomplish.
How many patients do you see?
In my division we primarily see patients for pancreatic, liver, biliary and gastric cancers. In addition we perform non cancer operations on these same organs.
As a group we perform more than 100 pancreaticoduodenectomies (one of the most technically challenging procedures) and a similar number of major liver resections each year.
Whenever possible and safe we utilize minimally invasive or laparoscopic approaches for these resections.
How are you involved in the community?
My family is rather new in St. Louis, so we haven’t had a lot of time to get involved yet, but we have always been very active in our church.
During our marriage, my wife, who was a public health nurse, has led the family in our community service. She is very interested in community outreach. I’m sure that I will soon find myself spending some of my holiday time delivering turkeys and toys to needy families in the St. Louis area. I like to give my wife a hard time about it but I truly enjoy it.
I also donate my time every other Friday to supervising a group of surgery residents who provide health care to indigent patients through a program which is set up by the hospital.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Well, actually there was the best advice I never took and the best advice I did take. The best advice I never took came during my surgical training.
As many a generation of residents has been told “eat when you can, sleep when you can and NEVER touch the pancreas” because it is so challenging. As I went through my surgical training, I worked really hard, slept very little and went into pancreatic surgery, so I didn’t take any of that advice!
The best advice I did take was the Scout’s Oath which is: “On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
What lifestyle change could most benefit our health?
Unfortunately there is not much you can do to specifically avoid pancreatic cancer or liver cancer. These are diseases that often come as a surprise. The best anyone can do is to eat healthy, don’t smoke and see your doctor regularly.
There are a large number of people who could benefit from a screening colonoscopy that have been reluctant to get one. Colon cancer when detected early and before it gets to the liver, is much easier to cure.
From my patients who have had the unfortunate experience of having their life so abruptly interrupted by cancer I have learned that…Life can be a short journey so it is wise to enjoy the trip.
Take some time each year to enjoy your life, your family and your friends. I have never met someone who gets to the end of their life and says “I wish I had worked one more Saturday”. I wish I could honestly say that I have heeded this advice myself. I can say that I do enjoy life and I do enjoy helping my patients.
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