Washington People: David Mutch

Mutch finds joy in teaching, research and patient care

Robert Boston

David Mutch, MD (left), the Ira C. and Judith Gall Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, meets with former patient Grace Katzenberger. “Dave is a truly good and nice person,” says James Schreiber, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “He cares deeply about his patients. He is an excellent role model for all academic physicians.”

The city of Sioux Falls, S.D. — named for the cascade on the stretch of the Big Sioux River that loops around the town — is where David Mutch, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and division chief of gynecologic oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, spent his childhood.

Mutch grew up in a beautiful part of South Dakota that boasts no fewer than 175 fishing lakes.

“I fished a lot of the lakes when I was young,” says Mutch, whose fondness for the outdoors remains strong. “The first day of the hunting and fishing seasons in my home state are like the opening day of baseball season in St. Louis.”

Mutch has also been involved with horses. In addition to breaking horses to rein, he also participated in the rodeo’s roping and cutting events. In roping, a rider mounted on a horse has to throw a loop of rope around a calf’s neck, dismount from the horse, run to the calf, and restrain it by tying three legs together, as quickly as possible. Cutting is where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate an animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.

Drawn to academic medicine

Mutch entered Washington University as a medical student in 1978, with plans to return to Sioux Falls to join his father, Milton Mutch, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice.

“But along the way, I came to recognize the value of academic medicine,” Mutch says. “I met some amazing people during my training. Their dedication to training others while maintaining standards of excellence in clinical practice, along with the energizing research collaborations they enjoyed, made me want to become part of that tradition.”

Mutch completed an internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine and then a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Duke University. It was his mentor at Duke, William Creasman, MD, who “sealed the deal” on Mutch’s academic medicine career.

He says that he may have made his career at Duke if it weren’t for his St. Louis-born wife, who encouraged him to return to Washington University. Mutch’s wife, Lynn, was a student at Washington University when they met — at a St. Patrick’s Day party during Match Week.

“Returning to Washington University was a very easy decision,” Mutch says.

In 1987, he joined the School of Medicine as assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

James Schreiber, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, really drove home the “tripartite mission” of patient care, teaching and research, Mutch says.

“The importance and joy of that mission is why I am at Washington University today,” Mutch says.

Mutch became director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology in 1991 and was named the Ira C. and Judith Gall Professor in 1999. He has been the vice chair of gynecology since 2002.

“In my mind, Dave Mutch is a glowing example of everything good about being an academic physician,” says George Macones, MD, the Mitchell and Elaine Yanow Professor and head of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “He is a wonderful and caring doctor, a fantastic scientist and a gifted teacher and mentor. He is one-of-a-kind in the world of gynecologic oncology.”

In 1990, Mutch’s younger brother, Matt, began medical school at Washington University. Today, Matt Mutch, MD, is a colorectal surgeon at the School of Medicine.

Mutch is proud of the contributions to gynecologic oncology his department has made through research and training of fellows.

“We generally have five or six fellows at any given time alternating between three and four a year,” he says.

Patient volume has tripled under his leadership of the division.

Courtesy photo

The Mutch family: (from left) David, daughter, Adrienne; wife, Lynn; and son, David, at Adrienne’s graduation from the University of Colorado.

He also is proud of his family. Lynn, his wife of 29 years, and their children share his interest in the outdoors. His daughter, Adrienne, is a graduate student in environmental anthropology at the University of Colorado, and his son, David, is a horticultural consultant. Both reside in Boulder, Colo.

Craving open spaces

While a life on the South Dakota prairie wasn’t in the cards for him, Mutch still craves the open spaces. He says that owing a farm has been a dream since his childhood, when he spent time at his grandfather’s farm in Minnesota.

“I’d be a farmer if I could afford it,” he says. “It’s my dream.”

“Farmers understand the vagaries of life and are well-equipped to deal with uncertainties — especially the kind of uncertainties faced by my patients with gynecologic cancer,” Mutch says. “I look forward to a time when the therapies we are developing today can give them great hope.”

Connecting with patients

Within the university, Mutch’s fulfillment of the “tripartite mission” has earned four teaching awards and a 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Medicine, significant research grants, 200 scientific publications, the respect of colleagues and gratitude from his patients and their families.

“I value the connection I have with my patients with gynecologic cancer,” Mutch says. “It is essential that the patient and her family feel confident that everything possible has been done. And, with every year, we are able to do more, thanks to new developments coming from our basic research efforts.

“At Washington University, I have world-class collaborators and a breadth and depth of infrastructure that is unmatched,” he says.

Those collaborators enjoy working with Mutch as well.

“Dave is a truly good and nice person,” Schreiber says. “He cares deeply about his patients. He is an excellent role model for all academic physicians, and it has been my privilege to be his colleague and friend.”

Mutch also gives back to his profession. In 2009, he was elected president of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, an organization with which he has been involved for several years.

He is the principal investigator for the Gynecologic Oncology Group at Washington University and is the author or co-author of more than 180 peer-reviewed publications as well as numerous book chapters on the treatment of cancers of the female reproductive tract. He also is the co-principal investigator on a National Institutes of Health grant looking at detecting DNA mismatch repair in endometrial cancers.

Another trifold mission

Mutch says that in his personal life, he has a different sort of tripartite mission: family, friends and fishing.

“I prefer all three combined in a fly-fishing vacation to the boundary waters of Minnesota,” he says.

Fast facts about David Mutch

Title: Ira C. and Judith Gall Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, division chief of gynecologic oncology
Family: Wife, Lynn; daughter, Adrienne, son, David
Past achievements: Used to do roping and cutting in the rodeo; high school senior-class president in 1971-72 at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D.; was on the South Dakota state wrestling championship team