Dr. Zach Brennan’s preference for high-stakes careers led him to choose cardiothoracic surgery. He went into the specialty with eyes wide open, knowing that it was not for the faint of heart. Like most CT surgeons, Dr. Brennan is a self-proclaimed workaholic and is excited by the specialty’s rapid innovations and minimally invasive surgery new developments.
Dr. Brennan received the STS Looking to the Future Scholarship, which he said boosted his skills, knowledge, and resolve. Today, he is training in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency program. He unequivocally adds that the mentorship of Tyler Wallen, DO, a general surgeon specializing in cardiac surgery at Geisinger; Jeffrey Jacobs, MD, pediatric cardiac surgeon and professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Florida; and Anthony Perez-Tamayo, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center, sold him on cardiothoracic surgery. “I was hooked from Day 1!” he says. “Now, being able to walk a medical student through a procedure early on in residency, teaching some of the same basic things mentors have taught me, was a really surreal moment—a full circle experience that was really special.”
He is no stranger to extreme challenges. Dr. Brennan spent 14 years working in military and government service as a federal agent in intelligence and law enforcement. He worked on local and global issues: improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, curbed proliferation of missile chips throughout the world, and mastered Arabic.
Surgery represented the change he was looking for that still fulfilled his drive to respond tactically and strategically to difficult situations. He was awestruck when he first observed aortic surgery with circulatory arrest, a congenital heart transplant, and went on heart procurements. “I think that learning and growing as a surgeon while also facing the complexities of treating CT patients have been challenging, but very welcomed ones.” Outside the OR, the connection to patients hit home and stuck during Dr. Brennan's first residency rotation: a post-operative patient in the cardiac ICU whom he had treated asked him to sign a special heart-shaped pillow.
Dr. Brennan hopes to build on his interaction thus far with STS, participating in committees in his capacity as a resident and moving on to leadership roles.
With a multitude of interests, sailing, scuba diving, reading, playing guitar, and board games with friends are on top of his favorites list. He prizes traveling and does it with his dog, Korah, whom he has taken to every coast and border of the U.S.
Catch up with Dr. Brennan on X (formerly Twitter) at @zachjbrennan and watch his recent TEDx Talk.