In college, I studied political science but I had a summer job working at a hospital as an orderly, moving patients, changing beds, weighing people and taking vital signs.

It was an interesting time. I found an identity with connecting to people through medicine. I remember the people and the situations I found most compelling were in the emergency department, where people would be rolled in on a stretcher waiting for their treatment. I would move them different places. It was fascinating to hear their stories. I watched as the doctors would come in and give them their diagnosis.

I saw how medicine could change an individual’s life and how doctors can use their intellect in a neat way to help people.

I had a renewed purpose.

I went back and took a number of courses to ready myself for medical school. I did well, applied to medical school and was accepted.

I fell in love with cardiology and the heart — the circulation and physiology. The heart was at the heart of it all. But my plan got derailed when I had to undergo an operation myself.

Up until that time, I was not interested in surgery. I thought it was more technical than intellectual. Typically when people are on a rotation, they feel like they are catching whatever condition they’re studying. I remember feeling something funny in my neck. I had it checked out and indeed it was a tumor. I had to have an operation.

There was a surgeon there who became a role model to me. He showed me what it meant to be a caring surgeon.

I immediately decided to look into a career in surgery.

There’s been a lot of serendipity in my life. I began working at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in 1978. It was a great residency and teaching experience. During that time, I rotated through the children’s hospital and fell in love with pediatric surgery. That’s where I saw firsthand the impact surgery can have on the lives of children and their families.

I would get up at 4 a.m. to start rounds at 5 a.m., and I found myself looking forward to it. I just loved seeing the kids, even though they were quite ill. I decided to become a pediatrics surgeon and apply for the fellowship here at Children’s.

I got the position, which was quite competitive. It was a two-year fellowship in pediatric surgery. Those two years developed into 29 years. I never regretted the decision. My dream of having a professional career here has been realized. What I didn’t know was that my career was going to change from being a pediatrics surgeon to being a leader in children’s health.

As I was given leadership opportunities here, I found that I was really excited to create successful programs and models of care that impacted lots of patients and families.

I am thrilled and excited to have this opportunity to make a big difference.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Kurt D. Newman

Position: President and chief executive of Children’s National Medical Center.

Career highlights: Surgeon in chief and senior vice president, Joseph E. Robert Jr. Center for Surgical Care; acting vice president, Sheikh Zayed Institute of Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

Age: 60

Education: BA, political science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MD, Duke University School of Medicine.

Personal: Lives in Bethesda with his wife, Alison. They have two sons, Robert, 17, and Jack, 14.