Faculty Focus: David Kaczka, MD, PhD

Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What is your hometown?

Boston, Massachusetts

How/when did you become interested in science and/or medicine?

I’ve had an interest in science for as long as I can remember, but this interest was really solidified during high school. I was fortunate to have some truly outstanding Jesuit instructors at my high school, and I very much gravitated toward the mathematical and physical sciences. I ultimately decided to study engineering in college. My interest in medicine came about much later, during my graduate program in biomedical engineering.

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

March of 2014.

How or why did you choose to join the faculty at the University of Iowa?

I had been practicing anesthesiology and maintaining a scientific research program for close to ten years, having been on the faculty at Johns Hopkins and Harvard Medical School.  I began to desire more variety in my clinical practice, so I decided to pursue a mid-career fellowship in critical care medicine.  I had already established scientific collaborations here at Iowa, including Eric Hoffmann in Radiology, Joe Reinhardt in Biomedical Engineering, and Gary Christensen in Electrical and Computer Engineering.  So Iowa was a very logical choice for me.  I interviewed for both the fellowship and a faculty position simultaneously.  At the time, I knew Mike Todd, the former Chair and DEO of Anesthesia, by reputation only.  But we hit it off very well when we first met.  He put a tremendous amount of effort into recruiting me here, and really went out of his way to make me and my family feel right at home.

Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

I’ve had several scientific and clinical mentors over the years, including Ken Lutchen at Boston University, Wayne Mitzner and Brett Simon at Johns Hopkins, Ed Ingenito at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Jason Bates at the University of Vermont.  Each had a very unique style of mentorship, but all were equally important in shaping my professional development as a clinician-scientist.

How do you see your faculty role impacting medicine and/or science?

My scientific work has focused on designing optimal methods for ventilatory support in patients suffering from acute respiratory failure.  Being both an engineer and a physician, I often have the privilege of liaising between two very noble professions, each with their own unique perspective and parlance.  But I’ve learned that getting these two groups to communicate with each other is usually the first requisite step in many medical breakthroughs. 

What is the biggest change you've experienced in your field since you were a student?

As someone who’s been involved in computational modeling of physiological systems since the late 1980s, I would have to say the explosive increase in computing power has been the biggest change in my field.  It wasn’t that long ago when the Intel 286 processor with 640K of RAM was a luxury!

What one piece of advice would you give to today's students?

Question everything, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  (I guess that’s two pieces of advice!) 

In what ways are you engaged in professional activities outside the University (i.e. population based research, mentoring high school students, sharing your leadership/ expertise with organizations or causes, speaking engagement off campus, etc.)?

I’m active in several professional societies, including the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Thoracic Society, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  I also served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.  My military service has involved direct patient care at Joint Base Andrews, as well as teaching and lecturing responsibilities on various topics related to anesthesia and critical care medicine.

What are some of your outside (personal) interests?

I am a lapsed marathon and half-marathon runner, but I still sneak in an occasional 5K.  My two sons have several activities (baseball, soccer, and chess) that keep me very busy all year round.  Both of them also play hockey for the Iowa City Blizzard, so we spend many weekends traveling to various ice rinks around the Midwest during hockey season.