Today’s guest is a legend in critical care and trauma surgery. Dr. Thomas Scalea is the Physician-in-Chief of the renowned R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Maryland, which is the only freestanding trauma hospital in the country.

He has had extensive senior management experience, previously serving as the Chief of Trauma and Critical Care at Kings County Hospital as well as serving as the founding Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at SUNY, Brooklyn. Throughout his career, he has conducted extensive research in critical care and trauma surgery, established the Lung Rescue Unit, one of the busiest ECMO departments in the country, and has served as President of multiple trauma societies simultaneously.

For full disclosure, I rotated at Shock Trauma last August. What I learned and witnessed was that even beyond the administrative duties of running a hospital, Dr. Scalea, also known as “The Boss,” still works clinically, still performs surgeries, and still takes call despite being nearly 70. It’s his lead-by-example, no-nonsense approach that makes Shock Trauma the powerhouse institution that it is.

We had an awesome conversation about his life, how technology has affected patient care and what it means to be a leader. I hope you enjoy and without further ado, here’s Dr. Thomas Scalea.

  • (00:02:34): You have spoken before about your mother and her importance in her life. What sort of impact did she have in your life?
  • (00:06:00): Have you always considered yourself an underdog?
  • (00:07:16): How was applying to medical school a dare?
  • (00:10:23): Despite not wanting to originally be a doctor, at what point did you realize, “Hey I can be great at this?”
  • (00:15:47): People are often not lucky enough to have renowned faculty available for mentorship. Do you have any advice on how people can find mentors?
  • (00:19:38): What is Maryland Shock Trauma and what makes it so unique?
  • (00:21:18): Why can’t Maryland Shock Trauma be duplicated in other places even though it has been so effective?
  • (00:23:05): In addition to your roles as a trauma surgeon and a critical care physician, you also have the title Physician-in-Chief. What is that and what are your duties?
  • (00:24:18): What is a typical day like for you?
  • (00:26:14): You also have a nickname amongst the employees in the hospital: “The Boss.” Where does this come from?
  • (00:27:27): Maryland Shock Trauma is located in Baltimore, which is known for its gun violence. You have written op-eds about this. Has this influenced your feelings or thought on gun or firearm regulation?
  • (00:29:27): You still work over 100 hours a week. What kind of system do you have to stay productive and prevent burnout?
  • (00:31:33): You spoke about the importance of touch and humanism in medicine. How have you had to adapt in this time of COVID and isolating patients?
  • (00:32:58): You spoke about how technology has worsened the provider and patient experience. Despite all the warning signs, technology creep continues. How would you advise the next generation to adapt their practice?
  • (00:35:50): What makes a great leader?
  • (00:36:47): Since you work so much, how do you balance work life and family?
  • (00:41:48): How did you start the first EM program in Brooklyn?
  • (00:44:39): You have also had extensive international experience in China, Afghanistan, and Haiti among other places. What has international critical care taught you about medicine, especially in these low-technology environments?
  • (00:47:07): How do you establish a consistent, successful culture within an organization?
  • (00:48:55): Have there been any books that you have found particularly inspirational or motivating in your career?
  • (00:49:44): Are there any failures that you have had in your life or career that have taught you something about resilience?
  • (00:52:14): Where can people find you?

Institutions Mentioned
People Mentioned
Further Reading
More Media

Humanism in a High-Tech Environment – Dr. Thomas Scalea from UMB News on Vimeo.


Music by Lee Rosevere – Sad Marimba Planet from

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

– Douglas MacArthur