Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Thomas Champney, Anatomy, Histology and Neuroanatomy Professor at University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine
1) When did you first become interested in science?
I have been curious about how things work since I was a young child. I enjoyed science throughout grade school and high school.
2) Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
I attended The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to work specifically with Dr. Russel J Reiter on the pineal gland and its hormone melatonin.
3) Tell me more about your career path.
I graduated from high school in Huntington, New York, in 1976 and attended Southampton College from 1976 – 1979 receiving B.S. degrees in Biology and Marine Biology. In 1980, I received a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree (in science) from Colgate University. My thesis investigated the role of the pineal gland on food intake and body weight in hamsters. My thesis advisor, Dr. Roger Hoffman, suggested I pursue a Ph.D. with Dr. Reiter at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. My older brother was a young faculty member at the University of Texas San Antonio at the time, so it made the move to Texas much easier.
While at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, I conducted research on the hormonal control of pineal melatonin synthesis in rats and hamsters and I also learned how to teach gross anatomy, histology and neuroanatomy to first year medical students with a stipend as a teaching assistant.
After receiving my Ph.D. in 1984, I spent one year as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Delaware and, in 1985, accepted an Assistant Professor position at Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine. I spent 18 years at Texas A&M University rising through the ranks to Associate Professor and Associate Department Head. I taught medical students gross anatomy and histology as well as continuing research on the physiology of the pineal gland and melatonin.
In 2003, I shut down my research lab and left Texas A&M University having accepted a medical school teaching position at St. George’s University on the Caribbean island of Grenada. I taught histology to first year medical students, sailed as often as I could, survived Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and helped start a branch campus of St. George’s University in Newcastle, England, in 2007.
4) Tell me about your current career, what do you do?
In 2009 I accepted my current position at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. As a Full Professor (Educator Track), I teach first year medical students gross anatomy, histology and neuroanatomy. I also teach research ethics, histology and neuroscience to graduate students. My current scholarly activity involves the ethics of human tissue use, specifically the use of willed bodies for education and research. I no longer do research on the pineal gland or melatonin, although I still review manuscripts and grants in the field. Furthermore, I help manage the gross anatomy laboratory and the willed body program of the State of Florida Anatomical Board.
5) What is a day like in your job?
There is a great amount of variety in my daily activities. I enjoy the mix between deskwork, lecturing, teaching in the laboratory, helping to manage the willed body program as well as mentoring both faculty and students.
6) How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
My education at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepared me very well for my career. I learned excellent research skills from Dr. Reiter and Dr. Mary Vaughan and teaching skills from Dr. Earl Adrian, Dr. Damon Herbert and Dr. Linda Johnson. Having both the ability to learn how to conduct quality research as well as obtaining excellent teaching guidance was a huge plus for my education.
7) What has been your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is when a former student of mine writes or tells me that my teaching and professional example has helped him become a better physician, especially when he relates how a specific patient has been helped. From a research perspective, I remember when a young girl with epilepsy was helped based on basic melatonin research I performed. I am also proud of recently publishing a textbook on clinical neuroanatomy. This textbook is the first to provide the neuroanatomy in the clinical orientation as observed by CT and MRI.
8) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
I would encourage all students interested in a scientific career to acquire unique and diverse skills. Besides having excellent research skills, a young scientist can be extremely marketable if they can teach histology, embryology and gross anatomy.
9) What do you like to do outside of work?
I really enjoy sailing, hiking and observing the natural world both above and below the water.
10) Growing up, what did you want to be?
I originally wanted to be an underwater explorer / researcher like Jacques Cousteau and I still have a fascination with all things oceanographic and nautical.