Office Hours with… Haripriya Ayyala

In an interview, Yale’s Haripriya Ayyala discusses her microsurgery work, testing surgical robots, and one show she has watched again and again.
Haripriya Ayyala

Haripriya Ayyala (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Dr. Haripriya Ayyala is a microsurgeon. That means she works on very small pieces of tissue — including blood vessels and lymphatic channels that can be a millimeter in size or smaller — to reconstruct parts of the body damaged by cancer. As a researcher she explores how robotics and other technologies can help improve this intricate work.

In addition to serving in the Department of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine she cares for patients as part of the Center for Breast Cancer at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.

When not treating patients, she likes to read, travel — Hawaii is a frequent destination — and rewatch familiar TV shows.

We caught up with Ayyala for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces Yale newcomers to the broader university community.

Title Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic)
Research interest Robotics in Microsurgery
Prior institution Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Started at Yale Sept. 1, 2022

What are your clinical interests?

Haripriya Ayyala: I have an interest in post-oncologic reconstruction, mainly focused on breast cancer. I perform both immediate and delayed implant-based and autologous reconstruction, as well as lymphatic surgery. But cancer occurs everywhere, so I also work on extremities, the abdominal wall, spine, everywhere.

How would you describe your research interests?

Ayyala: Currently it is mostly focused on robotics and technology in microsurgery. I’m a microsurgeon by training and we’re running trials looking at different robot microscopes and robot arms that can scale down motion and increase accuracy in microsurgery.

What led you to plastic surgery, and microsurgery in particular?

Ayyala: In medical school, I knew I wanted to operate all over the body, and when I rotated in plastics, I realized that plastic surgery is the last true all-encompassing surgical specialty. There’s no age or anatomic limitation. We have kids and adults, people who are sick and people who are healthy.

I really think that a lot of things have potential to change for the better very rapidly in plastic surgery. We’ve actually made progress toward addressing all of the things that we had been trying to fix 10 years ago. It’s about how we can make patients feel better faster when we move tissue around. And we’ve just moved so far forward in terms of minimizing morbidity and maximizing form and function. I think it’s really exciting.

You founded a mentorship program in your division — what does that entail?

Ayyala: Each resident is paired with a faculty mentor, based on personal and professional interests. And they must meet at least every three months, but hopefully every month. They should discuss personal and professional goals and objectives and review them at the end of the period. Residency can be stressful, so it’s nice to have someone to reach out to that you identify with. It's really wonderful working with residents and seeing them grow over time.

You’re an avid reader — what types of books do you like?

Ayyala: I usually gravitate toward non-fiction. My current passion is personal finance. I have all the classic books on the topic, and I like to read them every year to make sure I’m still on the right path.

What else do you like to do in your spare time?

Ayyala: I love to travel. Last year, I spent some time in Southeast Asia after finishing my training and recently got back from a trip to Japan. I have close family in Hawaii, so we try to go every year. For academic work, I’m heading to Italy and Singapore this summer.

I also have a habit of watching TV shows and movies that I’ve already seen before. My current show is “How I Met Your Mother” — for the third time.

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