The concept of standing on the shoulders of giants stems from ancient Greece, when Cedalion stood atop the giant Orion. Reflecting on his seminal mathematical contributions, Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) reaffirmed, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Today, contributors to the fields of bronchology and lung transplantation stand on the shoulders of this giant of pulmonary medicine, Dr Atul C. Mehta.
As Atul’s friend and clinical partner at Cleveland Clinic for over 32 years, I am honored to draft this acknowledgment of his giant contributions to pulmonary medicine. The professional attributes that warrant this recognition include Atul’s deep commitment to his patients’ well-being; an indefatigable drive to serve his patients and his organization; a hunger to advance medicine; a voracious appetite for scholarship, research, and innovation; and an unceasing appetite to coach and mentor junior colleagues in service of their own professional growth. Perhaps more importantly, the personal attributes that inform his status as a giant of humanity are his generosity of spirit; his sweetness and humility of character; his loyalty as a friend; his total devotion to family and community; and his growth mindset—his appetite to embrace challenge.
Atul began life in Ahmedabad, India. His early passion for hard work and excellence in the face of challenge are captured by the scene of a young boy doing his homework under a streetlight outside his home as the only available source of illumination. That street light still stands in Ahmedabad today, and I was privileged to visit it with Atul on a tour of his home town. From St. Xavier’s High School and College in Ahmedabad, he advanced to and graduated from the Municipal Medical College of Gujarat University, and then went on to train initially in India and then in the United States—in internal medicine at St. Francis Medical Center (Trenton, NJ) and Easton Hospital (Easton, PA). Following his subsequent pulmonary/critical care fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, he joined the faculty at the Cleveland Clinic, where he has been since.
In organizing the substantial accomplishments and contributions of Dr Mehta, four dimensions are apparent: as clinician, innovator, leader, and teacher.
Dr Mehta as Clinician
Dr Mehta’s acumen as a clinician is legendary and widely recognized. During his long practice at the Cleveland Clinic, focusing on lung transplantation and bronchology, he has touched thousands of patients, whose gratitude has honored Dr Mehta. The Brundige family graciously funded a state-of-the-art bronchoscopy suite in gratitude to Dr Mehta, and the Buoncore family has granted an endowed chair to Dr Mehta in gratitude for his transplant expertise and lifesaving treatment of their family. Sensitivity and compassion are core traits of the seasoned clinical master, and Dr Mehta’s receipt of the Cleveland Clinic’s highest award to a clinician for these attributes—the Bruce Hubbard Stewart Award in 1992—is testimony to his mastery of compassion as a doctor. Further evidence of Dr Mehta’s clinical expertise is his coauthorship of multiple guideline documents, for example, regarding interventional pulmonology, the treatment of small pulmonary nodules, and the diagnosis of lung cancer.
Commensurate with his joining the elite group of “pulmonary giants” who are being acknowledged in CHEST, Dr Mehta’s clinical wisdom and counsel are sought by trainees and colleagues alike. Perhaps I can offer no higher praise or concrete example of my personal esteem for his clinical talent than to say that when I needed a bronchoscopy on a cold February Sunday morning many years ago (after aspirating a piece of candy), I called Atul. As the consummate clinician, he answered immediately, came to the hospital, and performed the bronchoscopy. Atul Mehta is the doctor’s doctor.
Dr Mehta as Innovator
Dr Mehta’s many contributions as an innovator reflect the words attributed to another famous Ohio innovator, Thomas Edison: “There’s a way to do it better—find it.” Atul was an early proponent of bronchoscopic innovation and of lung transplantation and was the first section head of bronchology at the Cleveland Clinic (1988-2008) and the first medical director of lung transplantation there (2001-2008). His appetite to “find a better way” is typified by his investigative involvement in seminal trials of valves, coils, stents, novel laser approaches (eg, Nd-YAG), photodynamic therapy, and bronchial thermoplasty. Among his 133 peer-reviewed publications and 196 abstracts are descriptions of the results of these many new techniques. The subjects of his 95 chapters, 14 edited books or monographs, and his authored book (regarding bronchoscopic electrosurgery) bespeak mastery and leadership in innovative practices. Further testimony of his innovative expertise is his appointment as professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2006 and his receipt of the aforementioned Buoncore endowed chair in 2015.
Dr Mehta as Organizational Leader
In addition to these substantial clinical leadership roles, Dr Mehta has served in important administrative leadership roles in Cleveland, nationally, and around the world. He served as vice chair of the Department of Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic (1998-2008), was a founding member and the third president of the American Association for Bronchology, and served as chief medical officer of the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi (UAE) from 2009 to 2011. In a 2-year stint in Calcutta, serving the Cleveland Clinic, he was the chief executive officer of the BM Birla Heart Research Center and Calcutta Medical Research Institute (2001-2002). As a reflection of his international presence and commitment, he served as the director of the Center for International Medical Education in the Cleveland Clinic Education Institute (2007-2008), and he was a member of the Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Executive Committee (Board of Governors) in 2008. As success begets success as a leader, these multiple, varied, and highly impactful leadership roles proclaim his leadership prowess.
Dr Mehta as Teacher and Mentor
Finally, driven by a deep passion for the Cleveland Clinic’s mission of “more education of those who serve,” Dr Mehta has been a passionate educator, with a litany of mentees who have assumed leadership roles in bronchology and lung transplantation today. Complementing his educational activities at home, he has been invited to lecture in more than 60 countries, and his prowess as an educator has been recognized by his receipt of multiple prestigious awards, including Teacher of the Year in the Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine three times (2001, 2005, 2006), the Cleveland Clinic’s Master Educator award in 2006, the American Thoracic Society’s Educator of the Year Award (2006), and the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology’s Gustav Killian Centenarian Medal (2014). Other capstone acknowledgments of his deep expertise as a teacher include invitations to present the Edward C. Rosenow III, MD, Master FCCP/Master Teacher Honor Lecture and the American College of Chest Physicians Pasquale Ciaglia Memorial Lecture in Interventional Medicine.
Simply put, this compilation of extraordinary accomplishments that reflect his passion, energy, and grit establishes Atul Mehta as a true giant of pulmonary medicine, totally befitting the honor that this designation bestows. He has had an absolutely illustrious career punctuated by wondrous contributions, talents, and acknowledgments as a clinician, innovator, leader, and teacher.
In keeping with his gigantic status in pulmonary medicine, the words of John of Salisbury (1115-1180) in his book Metalogicon ring true in closing: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” Your partners, your many friends and colleagues, and the entire pulmonary community thank and salute you, Atul!
I encourage all to view the interview to hear Dr Mehta's words of wisdom.
Mehta AC, Prakash UB, Garland R, et al. American College of Chest Physicians and American Association for Bronchology consensus statement: prevention of flexible bronchoscopy associated infection [published correction appears in Chest. 2005;128(5):3779]. Chest. 2005;128(3):1742-1755.