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Member Spotlight: Dr. Mark Polak Goes the Extra Mile for His Patients

Mark Polak, DO, FASA, has consistently gone the extra mile in his career, earning his certification in pediatric anesthesiology at the earliest opportunity. In this ASA Community Member Spotlight, he shares his experience serving as the solo anesthesiologist on an aircraft carrier, learning Spanish to better communicate with the families he serves, and offering pet therapy to hospital patients with the help of his Labrador retriever, Lola - a trained therapy dog.

Please tell us about yourself.

I have practiced at The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, VA, for the past 21 years.  I did my residency at Naval Medical Center-Portsmouth (NMCP), VA, from 1994 to 1997, during which I received subspecialty training in pediatric anesthesiology at CHKD, performing nearly 1,000 cases.  It was during this time that I developed my passion for pediatric anesthesia.  I served as an attending anesthesiologist at NMCP for two years, which included one year attached to the aircraft carrier, USS Eisenhower.  I deployed to the Mediterranean as the solo anesthesia provider in 1998.

I joined the private multispecialty practice, Children’s Specialty Group, at CHKD in 1999.  I received my subspecialty certification in pediatric anesthesiology the first year that it was offered.  During the past 21 years I have had the pleasure of serving as Department Chief for two years, Medical Director for 11 years and also served as a Professional Staff Officer in the roles of Secretary/Treasurer, Vice President and President for two years each.  All of these opportunities afforded me great experiences and the ability to grow my clinical, administrative and interpersonal skills.

I live in Virginia Beach with my wife, Debra.  We have three children: Janine, an artist and professor at SUNY-Purchase who lives in Queens, New York; two sons, Kyle, an executive with GEICO who recently relocated back to Virginia Beach with his wife, Tina, who gave birth to our first grandson in July; and Andrew, who lives in Tampa with his wife, Virginia.  Both are educators, Andy, a middle school educator and Virginia, a preschool special education specialist.


You recently stepped down as the Medical Director of Pediatric Anesthesiology after 11 years in that role.  What were the highlights as well as the challenges that you faced during that time?

Probably the biggest highlight has been recruiting new members to our department, including physicians and CRNAs.  Seeing them grow in clinical as well as administrative roles has been extremely rewarding.  I am also proud of having the opportunity to serve the department and the hospital on the many projects, inspections (Joint Commission, DNV, ACS, Trauma) and committees during the past 11 years.

The challenges have been many but the one that stands out is related to the growth in the size of our department.   Having our department nearly triple in size over the past 15 years has been interesting.  With the increase in size comes greater variation in expectations, both professionally and personally.  Keeping everyone working toward the common goal, while providing an acceptable work/life balance, can at times be quite challenging.


What would you say are the accomplishments that you are most proud of during your career?

I would list three, not necessarily in order of importance:

  • Learning and becoming fluent in Spanish-in my mid-50s I took night class twice per week for two years at the local community college to learn Spanish.  I was motivated by my interest in going on medical missions to Central America as well as the significant number of Spanish-speaking families that we see in our practice.
  • Ultrasound guided regional anesthesia-attending CME as well as being mentored by others in my department has allowed me to become proficient in this skill and I have earned the ASA/ASRA certification.  Hardly a day goes by that I do not use the ultrasound for blocks or vascular access.
  • Building relationships-developing these trusted relationships with co-workers, nursing and support staff, and administrators has not only helped our department to grow and flourish, but has allowed me to evolve and grow both personally and professionally.


What do you do to maintain some semblance of work/life balance?

Having a wonderful wife to share experiences with has been an excellent outlet for me.  She is also my trusted advisor when I am in need of it.  We will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary later this year.  We have a 12-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Lola, who is a trained therapy dog.  She and I have been members of the hospital’s Buddy Brigade and made regular visits until they were halted by COVID.

My wife and I do like to travel, especially to visit our children, which has been difficult the past year.

I am an avid road cyclist and enjoy getting outside whenever possible for some rides out in the country.  I especially enjoy going on a cycling vacation to the mountains for some challenging climbs and descents.


Has the last year changed your approach to your practice and life in general?

Overall, I do not think that my approach to either has changed significantly.  I would be lying if I said that this has not been an extremely challenging year, but I think my personal philosophy that “you are only as good as your last anesthetic” still is my guiding principle in practice.  Patients and families still deserve our best care and even in these stressful times, they respond to our empathy and professionalism.  On the personal side, I consider myself to be an eternal optimist, and being surrounded by great colleagues and family members who support each other has helped me to be able to continue that optimism at work and at home.

Mark Polak, DO, FASA, is a pediatric anesthesiologist at The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, VA.


ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.