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New Face: Jeff Fahl

This pediatrics professor and chair of anatomy in UNLV's new School of Medicine says that throughout his career interactions with patients and students have made him a better physician every day.

People  |  Apr 17, 2017  |  By Pam Udall

Jeff Fahl, chair of anatomy and pediatrics professor at the UNLV School of Medicine.  (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

As chair of anatomy, Fahl has spent much of the past year building the school’s virtual anatomy lab, making UNLV one of the first medical schools to use this new technology.

Why UNLV?

Why not! Building a new medical school based on evidenced-based educational principles is exciting. The School of Medicine will have a lasting effect on the community, the university, and medical education. I am proud to be part of this interesting and challenging endeavor.

What are your job title and responsibilities?

I am a professor of pediatrics. I have taught and practiced pediatric gastroenterology for 40 years.

My primary job (now) is to build a virtual anatomy lab. This is an exciting concept in the world of medical education. Cadaveric anatomy has long been the basis for teaching anatomy. There are many who believe it’s the best way to teach it. However, anatomy learned using a cadaver is often difficult to translate to radiological anatomy that future physicians will use as the basis for evaluating their patient’s anatomy.

Combining the latest 3-D modeling based on the virtual human project of the National Library of Medicine with radiological images allows us to help students make this transition more easily. We also can extend the anatomy curriculum through the entire medical school experience, rather than isolating anatomy to the first months. By building a case study library that includes patient history, physical diagnosis, laboratory and radiological findings, and pathological findings down to the microscopic level, what anatomy the students learn will be integrated into their physical diagnosis and doctoring classes, along with their problem-based learning.

That’s why I am thrilled to teach clinical medicine as part of our problem-based curriculum and teach physical diagnosis by mentoring students in the art of doctoring.  

What inspired you to get into your field?

Originally, I wanted to be a surgeon. I loved anatomical study, but as I progressed in medical school, I discovered that I really liked taking care of children and their families. Practicing pediatric gastroenterology allowed me to combine procedural skills along with the care of pediatric patients.

During my career I have had the privilege of working with many physicians who served as my mentors. Each one impressed upon me the importance of listening to patients, carefully evaluating their needs, and teaching the families about where their symptoms originate. This is why anatomy is so important.

It was during my fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology that I began to see the possibilities of using computers to teach medicine. Teaching virtual anatomy has allowed me to come full circle. I can now integrate my love of medicine, anatomy, and computers.

What was the proudest moment in your life?

Besides meeting my wife and raising our children, my proudest moment was the day that I was promoted to professor of pediatrics. My University of New Mexico department chairman, Robert Katz, MD, spoke about my skills as a physician and educator and called me “the pediatrician’s pediatrician”.

One tip for success?

I believe that clinical success is guaranteed if you: Think out loud, stick to the basics, and are always kind.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I love to make jams and jellies. This started because I couldn’t stand to waste the fruit that grew in our backyard, but now it has become a fun project as fruit ripens every year. The canned jams and jellies also make great holiday gifts.

Who was your favorite professor and why?

I have had many mentors, but the physicians who stand out are: J. Timothy Boyle, MD, and Herbert Poch, MD. Both of these gentlemen were great teachers and mentors. They had tremendous patient-interaction skills, which have guided me through my career.

What are your pastime or hobbies?

Wood working, gardening, fishing, cooking, and travel.

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why. 

I’ve been fortunate to have many patients who write thank-you notes. I keep these in a drawer that I call “the warm fuzzy” file. But the objects that mean the most to me are the drawings that children give me. I have several that have been so amazing that I framed them. They remind me every day of why I became a physician and that I really have changed lives during my career.