Group photo of Dr. Mark Barraza with award.
Dr. Mark Barraza, center, chief of the Division of Pediatric Urology, receives congratulations from Dr. James Keeton, UMMC vice chancellor emeritus for health affairs, and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs.
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Keeton Chair represents professional pinnacle for pediatric urology chief

Published on Monday, February 10, 2020

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Dr. Mark Barraza considers being named the James E. Keeton, M.D. Chair of Pediatric Urology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center the pinnacle of his career as a pediatric urologist and surgeon.

“It’s like an Academy Award in my profession,” Barraza said, echoing the remarks of the first Keeton Chair, Dr. Edwin Harmon, when he received the honor in 2015. “and it means so much because I have been a friend of Dr. Keeton for more than 45 years. He is the reason I became a pediatric urologist.”

Barraza, a Natchez native who returned to his medical alma mater, UMMC, to lead the Division of Pediatric Urology in 2018, first met Keeton as a surgical technician at St. Dominic.

“I had graduated from Ole Miss and didn’t get into medical school my first try,” he said, “so I worked for about a year as a scrub tech at St. Dominic.”

Keeton, who at that time had recently finished his fellowship and had begun his pediatric urology practice, met Barraza in the operating room. He became a friend and mentor, encouraging Barraza to apply again to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.

“Seeing the Keeton Chair go to Mark Barraza is very special,” said Keeton, who served as vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine from 2009 to 2015. “It has been gratifying to see the chair go to another respected surgeon and urologist and dear friend.”

Three medical staff during surgical procedure.
Barraza, left, is shown during a pediatric surgical procedure.

The chair was created in Keeton’s honor in 2015 with a $1 million gift from Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit that raises funds to support Children’s of Mississippi. Through subsequent gifts, that fund now totals $1.7 million.

The gift of the chair “makes a huge difference for our pediatric urology program and our patients,” said Dr. Chris Anderson, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery and chief of the Division of Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery.

Barraza, along with pediatric urologist Dr. Christopher Bean, “has really cemented this program,” Anderson said. “He was assumed the role of senior surgeon, encouraging, supporting and nudging when it’s been needed.”

Pediatric urology is a calling Barraza first heard while working with Keeton as his scrub tech. “During that year before medical school, I got to see every kind of surgery at St. Dominic, and I knew the ones I did not want to do.”

By the time he was an M1 at UMMC, “I was hooked,” Barraza said. “Hardly anyone knows what they want to do when they start medical school, but I did.”

Dr. Barraza in a white coat holds a pediatric patient as they look at each other.
Barraza visits with John-Tanner Hollowell of Vicksburg, a Children's of Mississippi outpatient.

Pediatric urology “is completely different than adult urology,” Barraza said, “It is a joy working with babies and their families. Many times, one urological surgery can be life-changing for these children.”

Reconstructive surgery to treat birth defects and correct reflux and kidney obstructions can vastly improve life for children and their families, he said.

After graduating from medical school cum laude in 1980, Barraza had an internship in general surgery and a residency in general surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas before returning to UMMC as a urology resident from1982 to 1984. He served as chief resident in urology from 1984 to 1985. He then completed a fellowship in pediatric urology at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston in 1986 before joining the Division of Pediatric Urology at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. He became chief of the Division of Pediatric Urology there in 1996.

He concurrently served as clinical assistant professor of surgery (urology) at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, from 1990 to 1999 and as an assistant professor of urology at the Mayo Medical School, Jacksonville, Florida, from 1994 to 1999.

First joining the UMMC faculty as a professor of pediatrics in 2000, Barraza returned to Nemours Children’s Clinic in 2006. In 2009, he again became chief of the Division of Pediatric Urology there. Since 2011, he also had served as an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville.

A member of Phi Kappa Phi and Alpha Omega Alpha honor societies, Barraza is the author or coauthor of 16 articles in peer-reviewed publications and has given more than 30 invited presentations at scientific meetings internationally. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor of health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, praised the Barraza family’s commitment to the Medical Center. Other family members who serve the Medical Center include Barraza’s sister, Dr. Mary Taylor, who leads the Department of Pediatrics and is a UMMC alumna, and his daughters, Ellen Barraza, a surgical nurse, and Alex Barraza Taylor, a nurse practitioner in pediatric critical care. Their brother and uncle, plastic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Barraza, also earned his medical degree at UMMC.

UMMC team members “work together as a family and have a sense of mission as a family,” she said, “but some of us at UMMC are family.”

The awarding of the Keeton Chair to Barraza comes as Children’s of Mississippi is growing. A seven-story pediatric expansion that will include a dozen state-of-the-art surgical suites will open this fall.

“This will give us the facility we need for further advancement in urological surgery,” said Barraza, “and for training the next generation of pediatric urologists and surgeons.”