Q&A with Dr. Jeffrey Ponsky: Endoscopy, Laparoscopy Pioneer

Ongoing Innovation Tops His ‘To Do’ List

Wherever there’s been new ground to break in the field of minimally invasive GI endoscopy and laparoscopy, Jeffrey Ponsky, MD, seems to have broken it.

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For example, Dr. Ponsky:

  • Pioneered the percutaneous endoscopy gastrostomy (PEG) procedure in 1979
  • Served as the Director of Endoscopic Surgery and the first-ever Executive Director of the Minimally Invasive Surgery Center at Cleveland Clinic from 1997 to 2005
  • Has won numerous prestigious medical society awards

Now, after a 9.5-year hiatus from Cleveland Clinic during which Dr. Ponsky served in various clinical and administrative leadership roles, he has returned here—to a newly created role focused on his passion for hands-on clinical innovation.

Consult QD caught up with Dr. Ponsky recently to learn more about what he’ll be working on, what he hopes to accomplish, and how he plans to collaborate with referring physicians in the region and from across the country.

Q: Can you tell us more about your new role at Cleveland Clinic and why it appealed to you?

A: “I’m going to be holding senior staff surgeon positions in both GI and general surgery. At the point I’m at in my career, I really wanted to focus on what I enjoy most: developmental surgical endoscopy and pioneering new, minimally invasive surgical procedures.

The future holds more and more replacement of traditional procedures by endoscopy and minimally invasive surgical approaches, and we’re on the cutting edge here at Cleveland Clinic. I’ll be collaborating with surgeons as well as GI specialists to develop new techniques and advance existing ones.

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In addition, I have a half-time appointment in the Office of Patient Experience, which is directed by Chief Experience Officer James Merlino, MD. I’ll be working closely with referring doctors throughout the region and country to provide both consultation and education. I’m really looking forward to the outreach and collaboration involved in that role.”

Q: What’s the driving force behind your continual focus on innovation in the field?

A: “That’s easy: The desire to help patients. My contributions in developing advanced endoscopic techniques and new approaches to minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery have always been focused on making patients’ lives better by minimizing or totally eliminating surgical operations.”

Q: Your clinical innovation and leadership have been widely recognized within the field; can you share some highlights?

A: “I’ve been fortunate to have served as President of: the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons , the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), the Ohio Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and the Cleveland Surgical Society. I’ve been Chairman of the American Board of Surgery and Vice President of the American Surgical Association as well as the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract.

I’ve been honored to receive ASGE’s Rudolf Schindler Award, the society’s highest recognition award for excellence in endoscopic research, teaching and service.

There’s still much more I plan to do, from clinical innovation to mentoring young clinicians and helping them develop their careers, too.”

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Q: You were one of the first clinicians in the world to perform flexible GI endoscopy and you were a first-embrace of minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures. What are some of the major advances in the field that have occurred since then, and what does the future hold?

A: “Since then, I’ve been very involved in the ongoing development of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery and helping to expand advanced endoscopic techniques such as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).

We’ve ushered in the era of natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES), with some of the first work in the laboratory and surgically having been done here in Cleveland. We’re currently performing a novel advanced endoscopic therapy for achalasia. The procedure, called peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM), replaces laparoscopic or open surgery.

There’s been much more—and more to come—but those are some of the highlights.”