Itzhak Nir, MD
By Bridgette Wagner Jones

Elevated Expertise

New UNM Surgical Division Delivers Advanced Liver, Pancreas and Biliary Care to New Mexicans

The University of New Mexico Department of Surgery has created a new Division of Hepato-Pancreatico-Biliary (HPB) Surgery, dedicated to providing state-of-the-art care for liver, pancreas and bile duct-gall bladder diseases.

Surgical oncologist Itzhak Nir, MD, is the founding chief of the new division. He joined the UNM School of Medicine faculty in 2010 and practices at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“As physicians, it is our mandate and responsibility to provide state-of-the-art care to our catchment area,” Nir said, noting that the UNM Cancer Center is the only one of its kind in a 500-mile radius."

"Fostering and maintaining these primarily elective services of unique expertise is not only an obligation of academic health sciences centers, including UNM, it’s also a penultimate source of pride”

In 2017, as Nir was performing a growing number of liver and pancreas surgeries, he proposed to the Department of Surgery and Cancer Center leadership that his practice be transformed into a service line. It soon became the regional center for the care of HPB ailments, with 1,500 new referrals over a two-year period.

These efforts received further academic recognition in June 2021 when the School of Medicine’s Committee of Chairs endorsed the creation of a 10th division within the Department of Surgery.

The HPB division has implemented a perioperative improvement project that has played a key role in improving patient outcomes, Nir said.

“This endeavor encompasses the entire scope of surgical care, from the pre-operative clinic to the operating room and the in-patient floor, and finally looping back to the outpatient sphere,” he said. “It required cross-institution commitment, with collaboration of doctors across different departments and subspecialties, as well as the engagement of nurses and ancillary services.”

This five-year venture resulted in significant improvements, Nir said, including adherence to best practices, shortening the time to therapeutic interventions and length of hospital stay, lowering readmission rates, reduction of opioid use, improved global patient satisfaction, and resource utilization efficiencies.

Nir credits UNM Health Sciences leaders for their ongoing support, as well as his colleagues from across the institution for their partnership and dedication.

“Most of all,” he said, “I thank my team – Dr. Benjamin Ferguson, nurse practitioners Anita Novak and Megan Bloom and nurse navigator Lynn Saavedra.”

UNM HPB surgical team (from left to right): Lynn Saavedra, Anita Novak, Dr. Itzhak Nir, Dr. Benjamin Ferguson & Hector Stephenson; not pictured: Megan Bloom

UNM HPB surgical team (from left to right): Lynn Saavedra, Anita Novak, Dr. Itzhak Nir, Dr. Benjamin Ferguson & Hector Stephenson; not pictured: Megan Bloom


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