Peter Deckers has had a long and distinguished career as an academic leader and surgeon at UConn Health, but what he is most passionate about is teaching medical students.
So, as he gets ready to retire from his 55-year career this June, the university hopes to honor his legacy by establishing the Peter Deckers Distinguished Chair of Academic Surgery. Colleagues hope to raise $3 million to fund this new leadership position that would come with a programming fund for surgical residents.
“The goal is to honor his role as an educator and support continuing surgical education at the institution, particularly at the residency level,” said Brian D. Shames, M.D., Associate Professor of Surgery at UConn Health and Decker’s son-in-law.
Deckers has lead UConn Health in several capacities over course of his career. He became chair of the Department of Surgery in 1987 and eventually moved on to become a long-serving dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice president of UConn Health. He officially retired in 2008 but continued parttime, returning to the Health Center twice a week to teach a course to medical students and treat patients as a surgical oncologist.
“When a lot of us think about surgery at UConn we think of Peter Deckers,” said David W. McFadden, M.D., Professor and Chair of Surgery at UConn Health. “He has been here the longest and there’s a great legacy there in patient care and education.”
“Clinically speaking, he was able to recruit good surgeons, bring good people in, mentor them, bring them along, help them progress to national recognition,” McFadden said. “And he has treated so many patients. He’s one of these warm, caring physicians with a wonderful bedside manner that, unfortunately, we don’t see as much as we used to.”
McFadden said having the new position, along with programming fund for professional development fund, would have a huge impact at UConn Health.
“It would have enormous benefit for residents and their career path by supporting them in the lab or allowing them to travel to present research,” he said.
Deckers says he is most proud of his success in combining three independent residency programs at hospitals in the Hartford region into one unified, surgical training program based at UConn Health. Deckers, who was chief of surgery at Hartford Hospital and chair of surgery at UConn Health at the time, built a unified, surgical training program that is now considered one of the best on the East Coast.
“It really was one of those things where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts,” Shames said. “He created an extremely strong program, and he was extremely devoted and committed to it.”
Deckers grew up in Worcester, Mass. and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, where he was classmates with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He earned his medical degree from the Boston University School of Medicine and Medical Center, where he completed his residency in general surgery. He decided to specialize in surgical oncology after his father developed stage 4 prostate cancer at age 53.
Deckers went on to do a 30-month fellowship in surgical oncology at the National Cancer Institute at the NIH. After that, he returned to Boston University as a U.S. Public Health Service trainee in academic surgery, eventually becoming professor and vice-chair for surgical education. He first joined UConn Health in 1987 after three years as director of surgery at Hartford Hospital. In all, Deckers has spent 37 years in various teaching and leadership roles at UConn Health.
“I’ve given them my best effort and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “Quite honestly, I believe I was always in the right place at the right time with the right people under the right circumstances. Hartford was the best personal choice my wife and I could have made.”
As for retirement, he hopes to spend more time with his wife, Barbara, their seven children, and their 18 grandchildren. That is, of course, if he stays retired.