Heidi Nelson, MD, FACS, named Medical Director of ACS Cancer Programs

Dr. Nelson

Dr. Nelson

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) recently announced that Heidi Nelson, MD, FACS, a colorectal surgeon from Rochester, MN, will be joining the ACS Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care (DROPC) as Medical Director, Cancer Programs, succeeding David P. Winchester, MD, FACS, as he transitions from the position he has served in for more than 30 years. Dr. Nelson comes to the ACS from her position as chair, and vice-chair for research, department of surgery, Mayo Clinic, as well as professor of surgery, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Rochester. She has master’s faculty privileges in clinical and translation science at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

Dr. Nelson received a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University, Bellingham, and her medical degree from the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle. She completed an internship and residency in general surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, where she also served as an American Cancer Society Fellow. She then went to the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, where she was a colon and rectal surgery fellow and completed a research fellowship. Dr. Nelson returned to the University of Washington, where she was a Leo Hirsch Traveling Fellow.

Dr. Nelson has received numerous awards and held membership in many professional organizations, including the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors, the Society of Surgical Oncology, and the Association of Women Surgeons, among others.

Research activities

As the Fred C. Andersen Professor for the Mayo Foundation and a consultant for Mayo Clinic’s division of colon and rectal surgery, Dr. Nelson is internationally renowned for her research in the field of colon and rectal cancer. The goal of her research activities has been to improve the duration and quality of life for these patients. These efforts have helped to reduce the impact of surgery on patients with early-stage disease through the safe introduction of laparoscopic and minimally invasive surgical approaches. Her work also has helped to reduce the cancer burden in patients with locally advanced and recurrent rectal cancer through studies examining the role of complex operations and intraoperative radiation therapy. Dr. Nelson’s work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the ASCRS, and many other organizations. In addition to her clinical activities, she has led the Center for Individualized Medicine Microbiome Program at the Mayo Clinic, where she conducts, presents, and publishes research on the human microbiome and its connection to health and disease.


Dr. Nelson brings a wealth of experience from leading others and establishing results-oriented teams. She has mentored trainees and investigators and has served as an editor and publisher for high-impact journals. She also has been extensively involved with the ACS throughout her career—Dr. Nelson became an ACS Fellow in 1993 and has served as former Director, ACS Clinical Research Program; former co-chair, ACS Oncology Group; and as a member, Commission on Cancer Executive Committee.

Dr. Nelson started working with the ACS in September on an initial part-time basis, overlapping with Dr. Winchester to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of leadership.

“The American College of Surgeons is excited about Dr. Nelson joining our Executive Leadership Team. Her research acumen and leadership in the cancer care community are well known and widely respected. Her addition to our team will benefit our members, our relationships with cancer care organizations, and the patients whom we serve,” said ACS Executive Director David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS.

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