Anthony Charles

Anthony Charles is the director of global surgery for the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and the Oliver Rowe Distinguished Professor of Surgery in the UNC School of Medicine. He works to reduce barriers to surgical access and improve surgical quality and outcomes in low- and middle-income countries.

Anthony Charlesphoto by Anna Routh
March 3rd, 2021

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: I wanted to be a physician like my father. He was a very caring and patient man, and he really loved his profession. I remember going on rounds with him at the hospital when I was about 7 or 8 years old. A young child was screaming prior to us getting to his bedside. As my father approached, he started making faces and playing with the baby. The screaming ceased. I thought it was magical. I wanted those special powers. The ability to figure out what is wrong with a child that cannot verbalize a complaint — that’s what sparked my interest in medicine.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: When I was 9 years old, I sustained an injury while playing soccer, resulting in a laceration over my right eyebrow. There was blood everywhere, I was rushed to the hospital, and I had the laceration repaired. The surgeon told me that they could see my eyeballs moving through the wound. I thought that was pretty cool.

Anthony Charles, his wife, daughter, and son

Charles (second from right) and his family in front of the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, on their last pre-pandemic trip.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: During my surgical residency, I spent my research development time in a basic science lab in Santa Monica, California, thinking I would be a surgical oncologist. I was exploring the mechanism of programmed cell death in a breast cancer cell line. My cancer cell lines kept dying before I could perform my experiments, despite following all the protocols. I finally decided to order a fresh batch of cells. The prior cells I was using had been replicated too many times. The new cells worked. It took me three months to figure this out. I learned a lot about patience and the process of elimination. More importantly, I realized I did not want to be a basic scientist.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Delivering better surgical care globally.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: I believe that traveling is the best form of education and understanding the local foods gives better insight into that culture. Baking bread is a form of stress relief and mindfulness. Sometimes it turns out perfectly, and other times it is a complete disaster, but I always feel better.

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