By Yusra Arub
With over 140 published articles, 18 book chapters and 300 national and international presentations, Dr. John Morton will be leaving his position as Chief of Bariatric and Minimally Invasive Surgery at Stanford in July to assume a position as Vice Chair for Quality at the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. At Yale, he will also serve as the Division Chief of Bariatric & Minimally Invasive Surgery.
For 16 years, Dr. Morton has specialized in bariatric and evidence-based surgery, performing over 2,000 bariatric surgeries. From 2007 to 2013, he was Director of Surgical Quality at the Stanford Medical Center, where he helped raise the University’s Health Consortium annual rankings. During this time, Morton was recognized with five teaching awards as a professor at Stanford.
“When I started here in 2003, there really was not a program, and to build it from the ground up to where it is now is very gratifying,” he recounted. “The two things I take away most are both the patients that are so grateful and all the students that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with.”
Morton has dedicated a large part of his career to clinical research on overall quality improvement of surgery.
“The great thing about that is a lot of the findings will have an impact on people today, not years from now,” Morton said. “And it’s on human beings — it’s not on mice — so you’ll actually make a big impact.”
Currently, Morton also chairs the Accreditation Body for Bariatric Surgery (MBSAQIP) as part of his efforts to “create a model that would improve care” for the individuals who were obese.
“We’re now extending that model to medical weight loss as well,” Morton said. “And that’s actually a big part of my role at Yale — I’ll be directing quality for surgery in all disciplines in [Yale’s] six hospitals.”
Morton’s research has led him to gain a holistic understanding of the impact that obesity can have on families, a phenomenon known as the “halo effect” of bariatric surgery.
“We saw that if patients lost weight, their family members lost weight as well. Obesity is a family disease – you all eat together, go grocery shopping together,” he explained. “And we even took it one step further, to see if the dog in the family lost weight … they did.”
Morton’s research also addressed the issue of alcohol metabolism and aimed to address the commonly-held belief that bariatric surgery increased risk of alcoholism. In his research study, people were given five ounces of red wine before and after surgery, and he found that it resulted in a higher peak blood alcohol level and a longer duration of the metabolization of the alcohol.
To further test his hypothesis, Morton conducted follow-up research studies on stomach cancer patients, eventually finding that physiology, rather than psychology, played a significant role in whether risk of alcoholism increased.
“The alcohol receptors in our body are the stomach and the liver,” Morton explained. “So if you bypass the stomach, you bypass that first pass — that’s why it went up.”
Morton accredits his success in publishing over 150 research articles to the medical students that he has had the opportunity to work with, and expressed his gratitude towards the programs at Stanford that he not only helped grow, but also provided him with the resources to further his clinical and research mission.
“When you’re all working together it makes a big difference and kind of builds on itself,” Morton said. “If you have a thriving clinical practice … that gives you the opportunity to do research. And if you do a lot of research, you can do a lot of education.”
Julia Ingram contributed reporting.
Contact Yusra Arub at yusraarub19 ‘at’ mittymonarch.com.