Kenneth Shelton, MD, is a critical care physician and cardiothoracic anesthesiologist in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine (DACCPM) at Massachusetts General Hospital and the medical director of the Mass General Corrigan Minehan Heart Center Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He serves as the lead intensivist of a 15-member cardiac intensivist team, covering 34 beds across two physical ICUs. His research focus is cardiac critical care, specifically critical care echocardiography.

In this spotlight, Dr. Shelton shares the motivation that brought him to Mass General, his perspective on the future of his field and advice for following a similar career path.

What is your professional background and what initially brought you to Mass General?

I joined the Mass General family over 10 years ago and trained as a cardiac intensivist and cardiothoracic anesthesiologist. I was recruited from the University of California, San Francisco by Jeanine Wiener-Kronish, MD, former anesthetist-in-chief, who continues to be my lifetime mentor and career counselor.

I was inspired to join the department mainly because of its phenomenal clinicians, as well as the cardiopulmonary education program led at the time by former program director Keith Baker, MD, PhD, vice chair for the education in the DACCPM.

Why did you choose to enter the field of anesthesia?

I felt anesthesia produced well-rounded clinical physicians with a strong foundation in my interest, cardiopulmonary pathophysiology. The flexibility within the field has allowed me to create a practice that fits my clinical and research interests. Additionally, the DACCPM is still the only department in the hospital with critical care in the department name.

What is the one thing you would like prospective patients to know about your approach to care?

I strive to create a patient- and family-centered care experience in my practice. I did not train at a time when patient- and family-centered care was considered part of the culture of critical care medicine, and this is something that is changing and continues to change. I believe that these conversations are critical to providing excellent care and part of what we do as intensivists.

What is advice you would give to someone who aspires to a similar career path?

Do not be afraid to create your own path based on your own interests within the field of medicine. When I joined the faculty, it was difficult at times to create this new path for cardiac intensivists. I found myself convincing colleagues that I was still a dedicated and committed member of the department, while working in a modern environment across departments and divisions. Today, thanks to the support and mentorship of Thor Sundt, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery, and others on the leadership team at the Heart Center and DACCPM, cardiac intensive care medicine is now a well-established critical care environment for anesthesiologists at Mass General. I expect that other novel clinical opportunities within the perioperative environment will come to light and anesthesiologists should be prepared to take risks and push the field of medicine.

When you think about the future of anesthesia, what are some of the potential developments on the horizon that come to mind?

Anesthesiologists with an interest in cardiopulmonary pathophysiology have the opportunity to be part of one of the most exciting and rapidly growing fields within medicine: cardiac critical care. I believe that the Mass General Heart Center ICU has the potential to serve as a national hub for cardiac critical care.

This is an important time for anesthesiologists as physician leaders. Anesthesiologists today must be strong directs of patient care in order for the field to continue to expand and grow. I am excited to see what the DACCPM will look like 10 years from now, particularly under the leadership of Anesthetist-in-Chief, Seun Johnson-Akeju, MD.