Sancak Yuksel, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, was recognized for 10 years of service at UTHealth in the 2019-2020 academic year. Dr. Yuksel is a pediatric otolaryngologist and an adult otologist-neurotologist and lateral skull base surgeon who treats complex medical and surgical cases in these subspecialties. He is also subspecialized in sialendoscopy for salivary gland stones and strictures, and he is one of a handful of surgeons who perform these procedures in the nation.
A native of Turkey, Dr. Yuksel graduated from high school as valedictorian and went to medical school because “you have a daily opportunity to improve the health, quality of life, and happiness of your patients and their families.” He was the first doctor in his extended family.
Dr. Yuksel received his medical degree at Hacettepe University School of Medicine in Ankara in 1992, after six years of study plus an extra elective year of English prep. He completed a year of internal medicine residency and then completed residency training in otolaryngology at Cerrahpasa Medical School at Istanbul University.
Afterward, he completed advanced fellowship training in head and neck surgery, skull base surgery, and otology-neurotology. “Normally in Turkey we train physicians for five more years in preparation for a position as associate professor,” he says. “The faculty want you to excel at everything because you will be one of them, so I had extensive training in almost every aspect of otorhinolaryngology, including complex head and neck cancer, ears, rhinoplasty, and sinus surgery. The only piece missing for me was pediatrics.”
Three years into his advanced training, Dr. Yuksel decided to go to the U.S., where he served as a research fellow in the Basic Science Laboratory of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, working on numerous National Institutes of Health-funded projects focused on the middle ear and Eustachian tube pathophysiology. His original plan was to return to Turkey, but when the hospital awarded him the Lester A. Hamburg Endowed Fellowship in Pediatric Otolaryngology, he and his family stayed. During that time, he also served as an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“I was happy to find the missing pediatrics piece of my training, and in doing so, I discovered my calling,” he says. “When I was a younger surgeon, I thought that operating on a complex patient for six or seven hours was the pinnacle of practice. After doing more pediatric otolaryngology, my view changed. If you’re an ENT seeing a child, you’re the ultimate referral. Even the best pediatrician may miss a simple problem with hearing that has the potential to lead to a developmental delay. Often just a 15-minute surgery makes a huge difference in a child’s life. So instead of focusing on how long the surgery is, I pay attention to how much of a difference I’m making in that life. I enjoy making those big differences.”
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