Resident’s Life by Kristin Anderson, Illuminations Magazine
I meet with Zach Kastenberg, a fellow in pediatric surgery at the University of Utah, in Eric Scaife, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery’s office at Primary Children’s hospital. Eric comments as he walks out the door that I am interviewing the best of the best fellowship trainees in pediatric surgery. Zach is completing his second year of a pediatric surgery fellowship. He is ten years past his graduation from medical school and is seeing the end zone within sight.
Zach grew up in a small town of 1,200 residents in Wisconsin, where his dad was the family medicine doc for the town. He grew up being very familiar with the practice of medicine, sometimes shadowing his dad on house calls and ward rounds. While at the University of Minnesota for undergraduate studies he became involved with a research project studying the use of stem cells to help heal the heart after a myocardial infarction. This helped confirm his interest in medicine. He attended Harvard for medical school, and while there, attended a lecture by Steve Fishman, MD, a pediatric surgeon, showing videos and pictures of how embryological development could go wrong, which translated to problems Dr. Fishman fixed as a pediatric surgeon. Zach was fascinated and asked to shadow Steve at Boston Children’s Hospital. He began to focus his studies to pursue a career in pediatric surgery.
After medical school he moved to Palo Alto to pursue his general surgery residency at Stanford University Medical Center, which included five years of clinical training and three years of research in health policy. While at Stanford his mentors helped direct him to what he should look for in a fellowship in pediatric surgery…a busy hospital with numerous highly complex cases, along with a collaborative, collegial atmosphere, where he could build relationships for his future career. The University of Utah Division of Pediatric Surgery and Primary Children’s Hospital, quickly rose to the top of his choices.
Zach describes his year and a half so far of training as phenomenal, with reality far exceeding his expectations. There are roughly 40 pediatric surgery fellowships offered nationwide, and he feels he has had more opportunity than what is afforded in most programs, to work on some exceedingly complex and interesting cases. He’s operated with Michael Rollins, MD, Director of the Colorectal Center, on many rare conditions including two patients with Currarino syndrome where a triad of sacral agenesis (abnormally developed lower spine), anorectal malformation and a presacral mass, can cause a multitude of problems, often only repaired with surgery. In addition he has completed multiple liver resections with Rebecca Myers, MD, chair of the national Children’s Oncology Group Liver Committee, performed complex esophageal replacements with Eric Scaife, MD, and Doug Barnhart, MD, and observed the impressive evolution of the Utah Fetal Center under the direction of Steve Fenton, MD. He explained that Utah’s high birth rate, Primary Children’s’ broad geographic catchment range, and U of U attending physicians who are willing to collaborate and have him work with them on their cases, is giving him some of the best training in pediatric surgery offered in the nation.
He and his wife, Kelly Konopacki, a faculty member in the department of psychiatry, enjoy living in the Avenues where they have ready access to the Shoreline Trail. They also enjoy nordic skiing at Solitude, cooking together and entertaining friends. After his ten years of training, and especially the fellowship training he’s received at the University of Utah, he feels very well prepared to begin the next stage of his life as a pediatric surgeon.