As Dr. John Boskind walks the halls of TriStar Summit Medical Center in his dapper suit, people take notice. “Is that Dr. Boskind? I barely recognized you out of your scrubs,” one woman says. “Are you doing a GQ photo shoot?” someone else asks. Dr. Boskind laughs uncomfortably. He doesn’t love the attention. But when the seemingly reluctant Dr. Boskind sits down in a quiet corner and begins talking about general surgery, he opens up, explaining his craft with an excitement and confidence sure to put any patient at ease.
This month’s FACE of TriStar, Dr. John Boskind, is president of The Surgical Clinic, the largest group of private practice general and vascular surgeons in town. He practices at TriStar Summit Medical Center, where he serves as Vice Chief of the Medical Staff and Chairman of the Peer Review Committee. Skilled in robotic-assisted surgery, he’s been asked to champion the robotics program at Summit. We had the opportunity to talk to him not only about robotic-assisted surgery, but also about how he became a doctor, what it’s like to be a surgeon and father of three children (ages 10, 13 & 15), and why he’s so passionate about his chosen profession. Welcome Dr. John Boskind!
Why did you decide to become a general surgeon, and how did you get where you are today?
My father was a general surgeon, so I can remember, when I was probably 12, him taking me to the hospital on rounds, and when I got a little older, probably my mid-teens, he would actually take me in the OR. I was always so thrilled because I thought I was hot stuff watching these surgeries. It was exciting! He would talk about various cases over the dinner table that were either sad or patients who were doing well, so that sort of intrigued me. But the truth of the matter is I didn’t know for sure that that’s what I wanted to do in college. I always had an interest in business. My father said, “That’s fine! Get your business degree, but take your pre-med prerequisites all along the way. So I took very basic pre-med requirements, and then about the time I was a junior, I decided I really wanted to go to medical school. Ultimately, I felt like that was an opportunity to serve others in a more powerful way than just straight business, as much as I liked — and still like — business. I ended up going to medical school where my father did, which was Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Southern California, and met my wife out there. I swore I would never marry another physician. I wanted to marry a nurse because I figured a nurse would sort of understand the world I was in, but when you get two major career families, that can be challenging sometimes. I didn’t want my kids to live that life, and I’m not saying that’s good or bad, I just didn’t. But I met her, and my mind was changed — she’s a family physician.
I did my residency out there then came back to join my father in 2002 where I practiced with him for approximately four years before he retired. I started practicing at TriStar Summit in 2004, and then I joined The Surgical Clinic in 2008. I’ve been president of The Surgical Clinic for the past two and a half years, so as it’s worked out, my business interests have merged with my love of being a surgeon and a doctor.
As a general surgeon, what types of surgery do you mainly perform?
In my practice, I do a lot of the basics that general surgeons share, so a lot of hernias, lots of gall bladders, colon work, which can be diverticulitis, colon cancer, a polyp or a mass that they can’t retrieve through a colonoscopy … I also do a fair amount of breast cancer and thyroid surgery. So, when we say general surgery, you are trained to do everything, but the bulk of what we do is in the abdomen, and that’s where robotics comes in because we are doing more and more with the robot in the abdomen.
What do you love about surgery?
I like to solve problems. What I do in surgery, I usually am in a patient’s life for a brief period of time, when they have an acute problem, and we are able to intervene and get it solved, and they are able to move on with their lives. In family practice or internal medicine, they are going to manage the same chronic problems for longer periods, and that just wasn’t my personality. What I appreciate about surgery is you’ve got somebody who has an acute crisis, an acute problem, and you have a solution for that. And after they have that surgery and they recover, that problem is gone from their life, and they get to move on. That gives me a lot of joy seeing a patient when they come back to the office, and they aren’t having that problem anymore. They say, “Hey Doc, I’m back at work! I can do this, I can do that,” and that’s rewarding to me. I really and truly enjoy that. I enjoy the OR environment because it’s more team-oriented. I have to have a crew of people around me. I have anesthesia support, I have nursing support — the team concept is very appealing to me. I work with these people every day, holidays, weekends — they know everything about my family. I know things about their families. It really becomes a close-knit family that you have in the OR because you’re a team, and you are all there for the benefit of the patients.
Explain robotics, because readers may be picturing a robot doing surgery.
There’s conventional open surgery where you’re making an incision, and there’s minimally invasive surgery where you are trying to minimize the incisions that are being made in the abdominal wall. And why is that important? I really don’t need anesthesia to operate on your colon or intestine because the vast majority of your nerves are in your abdominal wall, so if I can limit the amount of cutting I’m doing on your abdominal wall, then your recovery is quicker with less pain. You have less time in the hospital, you’re back-to-work time is quicker, all those sorts of things. We sort of had this progression where we went from open surgery to laparoscopic surgery, where you’re making smaller incisions. That really started with gallbladders back in the ’90s, and now a robot is basically laparoscopic surgery taken to the next level, where the robot is attached to those instruments, but the surgeon is in a console and has complete control of where their instruments are going and how they are doing it. It’s just like having my hand in the abdomen, but it can go 360 degrees, and it can go anywhere you want it to go. It gives you a greater degree of freedom, plus it’s 3D that I’m looking at, magnified about 10 times, so in tighter, smaller places, I can still see as if I’m right there, but yet I’ve made small incisions. It’s a full contact sport because you work with your feet and your hands to do various things at different times.
What does it mean to champion a robotics program at TriStar Summit Medical Center?
We would be doing the vast majority of the hernias robotically. [It would mean] that we’re doing the colon surgeries that way, that we’re really being intentional about building a robotics center of excellence where this is a part of Summit’s DNA. We [Dr. Boskind and TriStar Summit CEO Brian Marger] recently went to a robotics conference where they talked about robotics programs. You’re basically establishing teams in the OR where that’s what they do, that’s what they are experts in. It’s sort of like the same idea in sports. You have a leader who is a coach. In this case, you have a surgeon who is the leader of the team, but your operating team is a group of people who do all things robot. It’s very much centered around a team approach for the care of a patient from a robotics perspective, all in an effort to make things more efficient, and by doing that, that can decrease the cost of the whole program and the cost to the patient.
I’m sure you’re on call quite a bit. How do your children handle your unpredictable schedule?
I do 10 days of call a month, and that’s the Achilles’ heel of what I do. On the one hand, it’s gratifying to take care of those patients and those urgent needs, and on the other hand, those urgent needs aren’t generally planned. So, there are times when I’m on call, and I need to be at a kid’s basketball game or I need to be at a family function or a church function or whatever that you miss because you’re tending to this other person’s problem, and that’s the downside. My kids know what “call” means, they know that Dad is either not going to be there or he may have to leave at a moment’s notice. So, that’s kind of a bad word in the house in that regard from their perspective. But they learn over time what Dad does. It’s a series of many conversations over dinner. “Hey, what did you do today? What does that mean? You’re really in their belly? What is an appendectomy? Why does it matter that someone has a hole in their colon?” It strikes home at school sometimes. One of them saw a dissection video during school, and they said, “So, you’re opening people up?” So, it registers a little bit more in that regard. With HIPAA, I never discuss who or what, but it’s always interesting to them that they’ll be at school and someone will come up and say, “You’re dad operated on my dad yesterday,” and my kids are always, like “Oh really?” They are sort of used to that now.
Can you leave us with some general medical advice?
The biggest problem in general in the United States in healthcare is obesity because it touches every field of medicine, whether you are a surgeon or in internal medicine. It doesn’t matter what you do, everybody is affected by it. The patients are affected by it, and the doctors are affected by it. Every problem you could potentially have is magnified by obesity, whether it’s diabetes, hypertension, heart disease or cancer. If you are an obese woman, you are more likely to have breast cancer than if you’re not obese. It affects everything, and then it also affects what we do in surgery, from an anesthetic perspective and from a surgical perspective. So, if I were to offer any advice, it’s diet and exercise. Generally, I think a vegetarian diet is superior to most other things, but definitely a diet in moderation. And I’m speaking to myself, too, because it’s not easy to take time off to exercise and do those kinds of things, but it’s so important.
Thank you to Dr. Boskind for sharing a look inside the life of a general surgeon and for your dedication to your work. To learn more about TriStar Summit Medical Center, visit TriStarSummit.com. Learn more about The Surgical Clinic at thesurgicalclinics.com.