Vaughn A. Starnes, MD, Distinguished Professor and chair of surgery, and H. Russell Smith Foundation Chair for Stem Cell and Cardiovascular Thoracic Research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has appointed Craig J. Baker, MD, professor of clinical surgery (educational scholar), to the position of chief of the division of cardiac surgery as of July 1 of this year.

“Dr. Baker is going to navigate the hospital into the next era of health care and usher in technological innovation to keep up with our rapidly changing field,” Starnes said. “I have absolute confidence that he’s going to do a great job.”

Starnes also cited the deep respect Baker has earned from cardiac surgeons across the country.

“The leader of any outstanding division needs to have a national presence,” Starnes said. “Dr. Baker has that.”

Baker’s wide recognition was a factor in his appointment to chief in another way: “I can’t let this talent get poached,” Starnes laughed.

Baker started at the Keck School as a surgical intern in 1995, but his association with the department chair and Julie Starnes, administrative director of the CardioVascular Thoracic Institute, began when he still was in medical school at Georgetown University.

“I heard that Dr. Starnes was the best cardiac surgeon to study with, so I called USC,” Baker recalled. “Julie answered … She must have thought I was so impertinent! But the rest is history.”

Baker ended up developing a close personal and professional relationship with the Starneses that has lasted for more than 20 years.

“Dr. Starnes has been an inspiration to me,” Baker said. “He’s been a mentor for my entire professional career. He’s much more than a colleague and a role model — he’s a true friend.”

Baker noted that he has been able to reach this position with the unwavering support of his parents, Allen and Carole Baker, and his wife, Regina Baker, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School.

“My parents provided me with the opportunity to pursue my dreams and always encouraged me to do so. And I’m truly blessed to have such a supportive wife,” he said. “Nothing would be possible without her.”

Baker has a bold vision for the cardiac surgery division: “My priority is to continue to grow the exceptional cardiac surgery program Dr. Starnes has built and cement Keck Medicine’s reputation as the preeminent cardiac surgery program in the western United States. I intend to make us early adopters of the new technology that will revolutionize our field over the next decade, and I will continue to build relationships with strong affiliate partners. I have amazing faculty partners and I’m thrilled to be able to work with them as we move into the future.”

— Lex Davis