After 20 years in the Navy — and a long list of accomplishments that included achieving the rank of captain — Christopher Amling, M.D., decided it was time to retire from the U.S. Armed Forces and begin his civilian life.
The urologic cancer specialist began looking for positions at academic institutions across the country three years ago, including UAB.
“I found that UAB offered the best op-portunity, resources and infrastructure to develop one of the country’s Top 10 urology programs,” he says. “That challenge attracted me here.”
Since joining the Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2005, Amling has been meeting that challenge head-on as the senior scientist and director of the UAB Division of Urology by hiring new faculty and establishing a program in robotic surgery.
Under his leadership, UAB was among the first institutions in Alabama to offer the da Vinci® robot in surgery to prostate cancer patients, and it has become one of the largest robotic surgery programs in the Southeast. The robot now is used to treat several different cancers, including bladder cancer, and UAB is the first center in Alabama and the Deep South to perform this procedure.
Amling says the department is fulfilling the charge it was given when he was hired — to grow a respected clinical program that would offer patients the opportunity to receive state-of-the-art cancer care.
“We are definitely on track to become one of the premier urology programs in the country,” Amling says. “For the first time we were named this year as one of the nation’s Top 50 urology programs, coming in at No. 36 in U.S. News and World Report rankings. As we continue to offer state-of-the-art clinical care, grow our faculty and further develop our research programs, I’m confident that our national stature will continue to grow.”
Amling also has expanded the Cancer Center’s research enterprise for urologic cancers, offering more clinical trials and conducting new outcomes research to broaden the scope of clinical and basic research.
“We have made significant strides in this area during the past three years,” Amling says. “We have developed research databases to facilitate clinical research and significantly increased our participation in clinical trials. Our urologic research laboratory, led by Jim Mobley, M.D., focuses on proteomics in urologic cancers and utilizes state-of-the-art mass spectrometry instrumentation. This was started from scratch and now is an active laboratory for us and for others at UAB needing this expertise.”
A satisfying challenge
Though his schedule does not allow much free time, Amling enjoys spending it with his family, including Barbara, his wife of 24 years, and his three children, Melissa, Caroline and Thomas. He met Barbara in his native Oregon, and they were married during his last year of medical school.
“Being in the military, I’ve asked my family to go here and there, and they’ve been very flexible,” Amling says. “I think there’s a lot of value in seeing different parts of the country. Every place is a new adventure, with the opportunity to experience something and learn from it. We look back on it as a good thing.”
In acknowledging the challenges of his work, Amling also stresses its benefits.
“There are a lot of sad moments in cancer, but there are a lot of situations that enable me to affect patients in a really positive way,” he says. “To go home at the end of the day and feel good about what you do is an important part of any job, whether it’s medicine or anything else. It’s a challenging job, but it’s a satisfying one.”
See the latest edition of Crossroads for more on Amling and the Comprehensive Cancer Center at www.ccc.uab.edu.