- Burnett School College of Medicine
A Tampa surgeon who says his undergraduate education at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences inspired him to always ask “why?” is the College of Medicine’s 2014 Alumni Professional Achievement Award winner.
Dr. James Norman (’82) was recognized at the UCF Alumni Association’s annual Black & Gold Gala. He is the senior surgeon at the Norman Parathyroid Center, a world renowned center that treats hyperparathyroidism.
The body’s parathyroid glands control the amount of calcium in the blood and bones. About 1 in 100 people – including 1 in 50 women over age 50 – develop a tumor in one of the four glands, leading to high levels of calcium in the blood. Calcium controls the body’s voltage, so you’re your voltage is too high, your body burns out faster. That’s why hyperparathyroid patients suffer from a series of ailments, including fatigue, depression, osteoporosis, kidney failure, fractures and heart rhythm problems. The typical treatment for hyperparathyroidism was a 3- to 5-hour operation where surgeons explored the neck to find and remove the tumor. Dr. Norman and his team developed techniques to find the tumor much more quickly and now perform operations to test all four parathyroid glands in less than 20 minutes. Thanks to the minimally invasive surgery, essentially all patients leave the hospital within 2 hours of the procedure with just a small neck scar that fades over time and a complication rate of near zero.
“Exploring is for vacations,” he says of his philosophy of developing a new and less invasive surgical procedure. “It’s not for the operating room.”
Thanks to their pioneering treatment, Dr. Norman’s practice has drawn patients from across the world, performing an average of 10 to 12 surgeries a day and 55 a week. This accounts for about 10 percent of all the parathyroid operations in the U.S. annually. As more patients have come to Dr. Norman, he says the practice has learned more about parathyroid disease and the surgery to treat it. “My biomedical training at UCF taught me the scientific method, how to think outside the box and to ask why, and is there a better way,” he said. “And that continues today in our practice. We are still changing, still getting better, still progressing.”
Dr. Norman said science “always thrilled me” even as a child. His next-door neighbor – UCF’s pre-med advisor at the time – pushed the young man to become a doctor. “I had a UCF guy right next door who told me every day, ‘You need to be in medicine.’ He told me I could be something special,” he remembered.
His family was in the car business – Dr. Norman still participates in professional car racing at the highest level, racing Porsches in the IMSA Tudor series at tracks as famous as Indianapolis, Sebring, Laguna Seca, and Watkins Glen. He even won the famed Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2013 in a Porsche. “Lucky for me, races are on the weekends and we don’t operate on weekends” he explained. “And, I have a great team of surgeons around me that support me. We are successful as a team.” Working around cars as a small boy taught him to work with his hands and develop problem solving skills so a career as a surgeon was a great fit. After getting his M.D. from the Oral Roberts University School of Medicine in he did his general surgical residency and endocrinology fellowship at the University of South Florida.
His advice to future UCF scientists and physicians: Keep alive the spirit of inquiry; that is the foundation of your College of Medicine curriculum. “Never stop asking why.” he said, “There’s always a better way.”