Joseph Sakran

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Trauma surgeon and gun violence survivor Joseph Sakran receives President's Frontier Award

Sakran, director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, will receive a $250,000 grant to further his work among medical professionals to reduce firearm injuries and deaths

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"Stay in your lane."

That was the directive to doctors from the National Rifle Association in 2018, bluntly suggesting they shouldn't comment on firearm safety. This didn't sit well with Joseph Sakran, director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of gun violence. As a trauma surgeon, he regularly tends to patients wounded by bullets; when he was only 17, Sakran himself was hit by stray bullet from a nearby gun fight and nearly died, spurring him to dedicate his life to gun violence prevention.

Which is to say, firearm safety is very much in Sakran's lane: Lest his critics forget, he launched This is Our Lane, a community of medical professionals dedicated to reducing firearm injuries and deaths.

On Thursday, Johns Hopkins recognized Sakran's work and advocacy by honoring him with the 2024 President's Frontier Award, a $250,000 grant supporting scholars poised to become leaders in their fields.

Keeping with tradition, the award was presented to Sakran during a surprise ceremony. The award committee, along with Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels and Theodore "Ted" DeWeese, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, showed up to surgical grand rounds hoisting a banner proclaiming "Congratulations, Dr. Joseph Sakran!" Daniels then beckoned a stunned Sakran onstage as a roomful of colleagues cheered him on.

"You've conducted national research on the impacts of gun violence on victims' mental health," Daniels said in remarks highlighting Sakran's exceptional career. "You've convened medical and legal organizations for the first-ever national firearm safety summit. And you've become a public policy advocate, harnessing that data and research to shape and guide sound policy with extraordinary impact, including the first comprehensive gun safety bill in 28 years.

"Staying in your lane, Joe, is clearly not your strong suit," Daniels added. "And for that we commend you. Our university, our nation, and countless patients and families are so much better for it."

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An active leader in the medical and gun violence prevention communities, Sakran currently serves as director of emergency general surgery, associate professor of surgery, and associate chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also serves on the governing council of the Young Fellows Association of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), and he is vice-chair of ACS's International Subcommittee for Operation Giving Back. He serves as board chair and chief medical officer for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and frequently collaborates with other gun violence prevention organizations.

In his remarks, DeWeese praised Sakran's unflinching commitment to his advocacy work, adding that Sakran's "humanity gives [him] the heart to take on these very courageous things … because it's not easy to take on people who push against you in very vigorous ways, but [he has] been able to do that."

Joseph Sakran receives the President's Frontier Award from President Daniels

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The surprise announcement was followed by a toast (with sparkling apple cider, due to the early hour) led by Andrew Cameron, surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who asked everyone to applaud Sakran for his work addressing "the most important issue that faces our city."

Sakran, the 11th recipient of the President's Frontier Award, said he looks forward to using the grant to further his advocacy work.

"We've been doing a lot of work with health care professionals trying to empower them with the knowledge and skills to be able to take [gun violence prevention] data and science and communicate it in ways that are incredibly impactful beyond the bedside, whether it's to leadership or the legislators," he said. "And so I think some of the award will go toward that work. We're also working with the entertainment industry … with Brady United, where we're trying to really have a cultural transformation that exists across America where we dare people to change the social norms of responsible gun ownership."

Joseph Sakran celebrates with colleagues after receiving the President's Frontier Award

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Sakran said he was both humbled and surprised to win the award—so he was perplexed when a colleague, John Cameron, the Alfred Blalock Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery, greeted him with a hearty congratulations before the surgical grand rounds even began.

"When I walked into grand rounds, [Dr. Cameron] said, 'Oh, Joe, congratulations.' And I was like, 'Congratulations for what?' ... But then grand rounds started, so the whole time I'm like, what is he talking about?" Sakran recalled.

In John Cameron's defense, he'd never seen Sakran wear a suit to work. "He's in his green scrubs, ready to go to the OR all the time," he said with a laugh. "So I assumed he knew about the celebration."

John Cameron went on to say, "It's a terrific award … and well deserved. [Dr. Sakran] has devoted his life to this topic and is making good progress. I couldn't be happier."

Joseph Sakran celebrates with colleagues after receiving the President's Frontier Award

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The President's Frontier Award was originally launched with a commitment of $2.5 million from trustee Louis J. Forster, A&S '82, SAIS '83, and is now partnered with a $1 million donation from alumnus David Smilow, A&S '84. The goal of this award is to support exceptional scholars among the Johns Hopkins faculty who are on the cusp of transforming their fields.

Nominations for the award, created to acknowledge and nurture individuals at Hopkins doing groundbreaking work in their fields, are submitted from across the university. An awards committee led by Denis Wirtz, vice provost for research, selects the finalists to submit to the president and provost.

Additionally, three Frontier Award finalists will each receive $80,000 honorariums:

  • Vishal Patel, associate professor of computer and electrical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning for improved responses to natural disasters, with the goal of processing real-time data to predict and mitigate events.

  • Robert Johnston, associate professor of biology in the Krieger School of Arts Sciences, seeks to elucidate the intricate mechanisms governing neuronal diversity, with a primary focus on visual systems to advance our understanding of visual system development.

  • Andreia Faria, associate professor of radiology and radiological science in the School of Medicine, is developing accessible tools for diverse scientific and medical communities, bridging big data with clinical research.

Joseph Sakran celebrates with colleagues after receiving the President's Frontier Award

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University