James Grant Thomson, MD, director of Yale Medicine Hand & Microsurgery, is a plastic surgeon who specializes in repairing the arms, hands and wrists for adults and children. He also performs surgeries for people whose bodies have been changed by cancer treatment.
Dr. Thomson is skilled in microsurgery—delicate operations performed under magnification using small, specialized instruments. But he says one of the most important advances in hand surgery is the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome using endoscopic surgery. This surgery involves making a small incision or two in the skin of the wrist, inserting a thin tube with a tiny camera and instruments at the tip, and using the tool to cut the ligament that’s causing the symptoms. “We can perform a short operation, and their symptoms go away immediately. People can get back to using their hands,” Dr. Thomson says.
“There’s a lot of artistry to what plastic surgeons do,” says Dr. Thomson, who is a professor of plastic surgery at Yale School of Medicine. In recent years, he points out, science has been providing more evidence-based approaches. “So we are also innovators and problem solvers,” he says. Through his research, Dr. Thomson has been improving techniques in microsurgery and tendon repair, among other areas.
“Our patients are always challenging us to come up with the best solutions,” he says. “Our medical residents and medical students are challenging us to be on the cutting edge in everything we do. That’s what makes it exciting to be here.”
A physics major in college, Dr. Thomson chose to go into medicine after deciding it was the best way to combine his passion for science with his interest in helping people. He is the founder of a non-profit program called Hand Help, and he has been leading teams of medical professionals on volunteer surgical expeditions to Latin America since 1998. His teams have made a difference in the lives of more than 800 people in developing countries.