September 30, 2022
5 min read

STS News, Fall 2022 — Douglas J. Mathisen, MD, is a giant in every sense of the word—a giant in his professional career as a master surgeon, a giant in education, and perhaps most significantly, a giant as a mentor and role model.

There are few practicing cardiothoracic surgeons today who have not been touched in a meaningful way by the powerful influence of Dr. Mathisen, said Douglas E. Wood, MD, from the University of Washington in Seattle, about his longtime friend and colleague.

“Dr. Mathisen is an incredible physical presence, easily found in a crowd, standing a head taller than everyone else. His hand engulfs one with a welcoming handshake accompanied by a warm smile,” said Dr. Wood. “The true measure of this giant is the enormous personal and professional respect that he holds from his peers for his integrity and generosity.”

Dr. Mathisen—STS Past President and former Historian—trained in general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, where he has remained for almost all of his extraordinary career.

It is not difficult to recognize the Midwestern roots of Dr. Mathisen. His easygoing demeanor, common sense, humility, and perfectionism have had a profound effect on the specialty and thousands of patients.

“Dr. Mathisen has been a leader in almost every aspect of our profession, a voice for our specialty, a mentor to many, and a friend to all,” said Thomas E. MacGillivray, MD, STS First Vice President, from MedStar Health in Washington, DC.

Dr. Mathisen was raised in the small town of Danville, Illinois, where his father was principal of the high school and his mother helped in her family’s auto shop. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

While growing up in Illinois, Dr. Mathisen was influenced by a surgeon in his hometown—Harlan English, MD. As a young boy, Dr. Mathisen was captivated by Dr. English’s sense of humor and the image of him being completely in charge. From the first time Dr. Mathisen met him, all he ever wanted to be was a surgeon. In fact, through medical school and residency, Dr. Mathisen stopped in regularly to see Dr. English.

Over the years, Dr. Mathisen generously paid it forward. According to Dr. Wood, every MGH resident from the past 30 years likely would highlight Dr. Mathisen as one of their most important influences and an approachable senior colleague who helped shape their careers.

But his mentorship has extended far beyond Boston, as his wise advice and generous support are sought by junior and senior surgeons from around the US and world. He has been a champion for literally several hundred aspiring surgeons: writing letters of support for society applications, advocating for positions on organizational committees and workforces, selecting volunteers to write board exam questions, and taking his personal time to vouch for early careerists professionally or coach them personally.

During his long, remarkable career, Dr. Mathisen has authored more than 240 peer-reviewed publications, 160 book chapters, and five books. Perhaps his largest contribution, though, has been in pushing forward thoracic oncology and airway surgery. With world-renowned thoracic surgeon Hermes C. Grillo, MD, Dr. Mathisen helped set the surgical indications, techniques, and outcomes for tracheal and bronchial surgery that have served as the foundation for airway surgery.

Dr. Mathisen also has made broad contributions in thoracic oncology: lung cancer, esophageal cancer, chest wall tumors, thymoma, and mesothelioma. Notably, he and his team were involved in tissue engineering research, building toward the ultimate goal of tracheal replacement.

A Distinguished Career Recognized

In recognition of his dedication to the specialty and its future, Dr. Mathisen recently was honored with a fellowship award in his name—the TSF/STS Douglas Mathisen Traveling Fellowship in General Thoracic Surgery.

This fellowship highlights Dr. Mathisen’s commitment to refining the practice of cardiothoracic surgery, teaching innovative surgical skills, and advancing the careers of bright and motivated young surgeons, which is essential for the specialty to advance and thrive in the future.

The Mathisen Award will provide financial support for early career general thoracic surgeons from North America, and potentially Europe, to travel domestically or internationally to learn a new technique, adapt an innovative technology, and collaborate with surgical investigators to further the progress of general thoracic surgery at the recipients’ home institutions.

"The fellowship in Dr. Mathisen’s honor will be a lasting tribute to him by continuing his legacy as a champion of early career development and connecting colleagues from around the world,” said Dr. MacGillivray.

Applications for the Douglas Mathisen Traveling Fellowship are expected to open in July 2023. In the meantime, fundraising to build the fellowship fund is under way. For more information on donating to this award, visit

Double Your Impact: Donate to TSF Today

The Thoracic Surgery Foundation (TSF)/STS Surgeon Match Challenge is under way, and—to date—$89,680 has been raised toward research, education, and philanthropic initiatives that advance cardiothoracic surgery.

For every dollar donated by surgeons during the challenge, STS will match contributions up to $200,000.

So far this year, the Society’s charitable arm has awarded approximately $1.5 million in funding to support surgeon-scientists in cardiothoracic surgery.

Award recipients are investigating topics such as an ambulatory pulmonary assist system for end-stage lung disease, opioid use in thoracic surgery, and the role of mechanical load in heart failure. They’re training with experts to learn new skills, including endovascular cardiac surgery, donation after circulatory death heart transplantation, and thoracoabdominal surgical approaches to treating aortic disease.

TSF also has funded lifesaving care for underserved patients in developing countries, including Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, Nepal, and Nigeria.

In addition to matching surgeon donations, the Society covers all of TSF’s administrative expenses so that 100% of each donation is applied to award programs. Plus, TSF donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

If you have not given to the Foundation recently, consider a gift at this time when your donation will have double the impact. For more information, visit