USF Health welcomes Dr. Christopher DuCoin, surgical expert in esophageal and bariatric surgery

It’s both the individual patient and the broader public health perspective of community that gives Christopher DuCoin, MD, MPH, FACS, a sense of balance in caring for patients.

As a surgeon for patients with esophageal cancer, Dr. DuCoin understands that the battle against cancer is challenging and unique to each person. He is driven to help every one of his patients by tailoring an individual treatment plan to meet that particular patient’s needs. His public health training arms him with the ability to look through a wider lens and he knows that the earlier we find the disease the more equipped we are to cure the cancer. Thus, he urges the greater community to be examined as soon as they have symptoms.

“My background in public health helps me to appreciate how health and diseases can affect so many people at once – not only the patient, but also their family and friends, even the entire community,” Dr. DuCoin said. “I always try to account for this larger picture.”

Dr. DuCoin joined USF Health in June as associate professor of surgery. He specializes in advanced surgical endoscopy and preforms transoral surgery such as POEM (Per-Oral Endoscopic Myotomy), which he learned while training in Germany. POEM is a highly specialized innovative procedure designed to treat achalasia, a condition when the lower esophagus tightens, impairing the ability to transfer food to the stomach. If left untreated, achalasia leads to difficulty eating, dysphasia, and dangerous weight loss. But, because achalasia is a relatively rare condition—affecting around 1 in 100,000 people—there are very few surgeons trained in POEM.

Dr. DuCoin said the results of the surgery are astounding, with patients typically being able to swallow again the day following surgery.

“It is a very safe procedure, with phenomenal results for a newer operation,” he said. “Patients feel better almost instantly and are excited to be able to eat again.”

His surgical skills are devoted to minimally invasive and robotic surgery (utilizing only small incisions), with an expertise in both benign and malignant diseases of the esophagus. Historically, these surgeries have been completed with large incisions on the abdomen, chest, and neck. Now they can be done with small incisions and rather than staying weeks in the hospital, patients typically can go home within a few days of surgery.

In addition to esophageal cancer, Dr. DuCoin is also an expert in bariatric surgery and is the director of the TGH+USF Health Bariatric Program, a highly successful surgical weight loss program partnership between Tampa General Hospital and USF Health. The program, which includes procedures such as sleeve gastrectomy, bypass surgery, and duodenal switch, leads the area’s bariatric efforts because of its intensive multidisciplinary approach.  It is his hope that they will be the first in the region to perform endoscopic bariatric surgery.

His range of surgical skill – and the paradox of performing some surgeries that help people eat more and other surgeries that help people eat less – drives Dr. DuCoin to stay at the forefront of his specialty.

“These surgeries are vastly different, yet both types offer the postoperative effects that every surgeon wants,” he said. “There are beautiful, amazing moments when you can see the patient is better; the cancer that was killing them is gone, or the morbid obesity and the associated conditions that were killing them are improving. These are the moments that motivate me, push me to strive to be the best I can be for each one of my patients.”

Dr. DuCoin is one of several key surgical oncology hires taking place at USF Health, said Paul Kuo, MD, Professor and Chair of MCOM’s Department of Surgery.

“Dr. DuCoin brings an outstanding reputation to USF Health for both his work in minimally invasive GI, esophageal and bariatric surgery and as a nationally recognized surgical educator,” Dr. Kuo said. “Dr. DuCoin’s previous work at Tulane creating a successful bariatric team will help give our program with TGH a decided advantage.”

For DuCoin, the ability to treat a broad number of esophageal conditions using endoscopic, robotic, and laparoscopic procedures and surgeries from beginning to end in one place is one of USF’s greatest strengths.

“We really do offer a one stop shop here,” he said. “Instead of having to go to several different locations, we can do it all within USF Health.”

The esophagus is the muscular tube connecting the mouth and the stomach and is essential to keeping the body fed and hydrated, hence, any issue with its processing can lead to drastic weight loss. Obstructions and conditions that prevent swallowing come in many forms, but it’s the esophageal cancer that proves most challenging, Dr. DuCoin said.

“Every surgery is different for every patient,” Dr. DuCoin said. “I’ll come into surgery with a primary plan, but I am always prepared to evolve that plan in real time, so the patient gets the right treatment. That’s why I enjoy this work so much; it’s always something different and you must be adept at adjusting mid-surgery, you have to be able to react in a proper way to that specific patient and their unique anatomy. You go into surgery with multiple plans, scenarios, and backup approaches. This is why I still continue my surgical training today, this is why I trained in the U.S., Europe, and South America, so I will always be prepared for the patient.”

Because esophageal cancer is often in an advanced stage when it is diagnosed, not all patients will be surgical candidates, but Dr. DuCoin still tries to help this disease population in any way he can.  He believes the greatest impact to reducing the number of deaths is a greater awareness for symptoms.

“Early detection and having surgery when the cancer is in its early stages are the two primary ways we can help the outcomes regarding esophageal cancer improve” he said.

Despite having conducted hundreds of surgeries over his career, Dr. DuCoin never loses sight of the people he serves – it is one of the things that inspires him every day. He has been recognized with numerous philanthropic and community service awards, including the Gold Humanitarian Award from Tulane University and the Health Care Hero honor from New Orleans City Business. While he has only been with USF and in Tampa less than a year, he has already been recognized as one of the areas “Top Docs.”  He has also is dedicated to mission work and travels to Nicaragua, teaching surgical procedures and providing medical equipment.

At USF Health, Dr. DuCoin is providing esophageal and gastric surgeries through endoscopic, laparoscopic, and robotic modalities to treat such conditions as achalasia, hiatal hernias, and cancer. He also conducts bariatric surgical procedures for weight loss and treatment of associated comorbidities.  He is currently an associate professor within the Department of Surgery and serves as section chief of Bariatric Surgery, the director of Advanced Gastrointestinal and Bariatric Surgery fellowship programs, and sits on multiple hospital committees.

DuCoin earned his MD degree from St. George’s School of Medicine, and a Masters of Public Health from Tulane University. He conducted his surgical residency at Orlando Medical Center, before attaining a prestigious fellowship in Minimally Invasive Surgery and Advanced Gastrointestinal Surgery from the University of California, as well as a fellowship in Advanced Endoscopy in Frankfurt, Germany.