September 2012—We all know someone who has had surgery. What may not be at the top of our minds are the risks of complications after surgery. A patient’s goal, of course, is not to have additional problems after the surgery. Complications mean a longer hospital stay and a higher hospital bill. How can patients avoid that? The first step is to find out who has a high risk for problems after surgery.

“There’s an 80-year-old tradition that says the anesthesiologist assesses risk of postoperative complications using a subjective tool,” explains Dr. Vicky D. Woodruff ’12, a PhD in Health Services alumna who is an assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “What if we run patients through a test to measure their bodies’ abilities to meet postoperative energy demands so we can objectively predict their risk of complications after surgery?”

Dr. Woodruff was awarded Walden University’s Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for her dissertation, Physiologic Capacity as a Predictor of Postoperative Complications and Associated Costs in Three Types of Oncological Surgeries. It ultimately proposes further research into tailored objective risk-assessment tools.

The Far-Reaching Implications of Research
“My research not only showed that you can predict who is high risk for complications after surgery, it also showed we can track what kind of complications patients may have and when,” Dr. Woodruff says. Her goal is to continue her research, which she is conducting with Dr. Curtis Hightower at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, to determine the risks and possible complications for various types of surgeries and then introduce an intervention to positively impact post-surgery outcomes.

If her ongoing research garners national attention, it will affect hospitals, insurance companies, healthcare costs, and, most importantly, patients. “A patient’s well-being and care must drive the motivation for the research,” she says.

Clearly, research is an ongoing passion for Dr. Woodruff. She also has a few words of advice for current students: “Find something you’re passionate about. That passion will help you in the dissertation process when you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where your answers are coming from.”

But the most important ingredient, she acknowledges, may be the choice of your dissertation committee members. Dr. Woodruff selected Dr. Jeff Snodgrass, the recipient of the Bernard L. Turner Award, as her dissertation chair. “He kept me focused and on track,” she says. “He and my committee members helped me stop to think about what I was doing.”

Harold L. Hodgkinson Award
This award is bestowed annually upon a Walden graduate whose dissertation is judged as meeting the highest university standards of academic excellence. The award honors the life of dedication and the distinguished career of one of the nation’s foremost experts in demography, Dr. Harold L. Hodgkinson. It also recognizes Dr. Hodgkinson’s instrumental role in the establishment and academic development of Walden University.

Read about past recipients of the Harold L. Hodgkinson Award.

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