Celebrating a Teacher and Mentor to Generations of Urologists

Feb. 12, 2024

Ronald Rabinowitz, MD, FAAP, FACS, is an internationally renowned expert in pediatric urology and urologic history. He has held numerous leadership positions, including Pediatric Urology Division Chief and professor of Urology and Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He has also served as chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Urology, as a member of the American Urological Association board of directors, and as AUA Northeastern Section president, secretary and historian.

The AUA recognized his work and expertise with its Distinguished Service Award, Lifetime Achievement Award and the William P. Didusch Art and History Award.

Yet, above all the leadership roles and accolades, Rabinowitz is most proud of teaching and mentoring young urologists. He has trained more than 100 urology residents and medical students, giving them critical knowledge of the anatomy and embryology of the urinary tract and the importance of precise movements in the operating room. Rabinowitz has shared his expertise by authoring or co-authoring more than 250 publications.

Ronald Rabinowitz, MD, FAAP, FACS

Rabinowitz’s esteemed career and commitment to teaching was celebrated with a Festschrift in September 2023.

“This Festschrift was a testament to Ron’s lasting contributions to urology, his unwavering dedication to pediatric urology, his commitment to teaching and his legacy as a historian,” said URMC Department of Urology Chair Jean Joseph, MD, MBA, FACS “He has inspired so many to choose pediatric urology as their subspecialty and they have since become leaders at their own institutions.”

Attended by former residents, medical students, colleagues, friends and family, the event left Rabinowitz feeling a bit embarrassed.

“Being honored like this didn’t fit with the way I was raised, as we were taught not to seek publicity or the spotlight,” he said. “But I viewed the event from a philosophical standpoint: this was like my funeral where I could hear people give my eulogies while still alive.”

The two-day event featured plenty of toasts and stories from former students and residents who were inspired by Rabinowitz and who have gone on to develop successful academic positions around the country under Rabinowitz’s tutelage.

Many presenters highlighted his well-known catch phrases that he has passed on to students and residents throughout the years. One such Rabinowitz-ism was that every paper must start with a catchy title to hook the reader.

During his Festschrift presentation, Scott Quarrier, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Urology at URMC, listed many of the unique titles that he and other former residents crafted with Rabinowitz for publications. Quarrier’s award winning paper, “The Light at the End of the Scope,” was the opening of his Festschrift homage.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Anthony Caldamone, MD, FAAP, FACS, with Brown University and Rabinowitz.

Anthony Caldamone, MD, FAAP, FACS, professor of Surgery (Urology) and Pediatrics, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, first met Rabinowitz as a URMC surgical intern. While debating between specializing in general surgery and pediatrics, a random assignment to Rabinowitz’s operating room led him to fall in love with the type of work that Rabinowitz was doing and the atmosphere of his operating room.

“Ron made everything fun and exciting, and he always stayed cool and kept things in perspective,” Caldamone said. “Long before the ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ book was published, Ron was a master at that. He taught us to prioritize what really matters.”

“He was a tremendous role model who had the unique ability to assess residents’ strengths and weaknesses and to promote those strengths,” Caldamone added. “He was always one to be more inclusive than exclusive, making sure everyone involved in a research project or a patient treatment got credit for it.”

Stephen Nakada, MD, FACS, FRCS, chair of the Department of Urology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, President-Elect of the American Urological Association, first met Rabinowitz in 1986 as a medical student at the University of Rochester, where he also served as a resident in the early 1990s.

Stephen Nakada, MD, FACS, FRCS, the University of Wisconsin

Nakada has taken three key lessons from Rabinowitz’s teachings: a commitment to quality patient care, the benefit of establishing personal relationships, and taking time to enjoy the ride.

“Ron always professed the importance of taking great care of the patient,” said Nakada. “He helped us understand the value of relationships in a professional career, and he creates a personal connection with patients, colleagues, and staff. Ron is a caring individual, and he supports others–and people want to support him as well.”

“Another teaching from Ron – one that is probably the most undervalued – is the need to have fun. Ron understands the privilege of caring for people, but what separates him is that he makes it fun.”

Part of his professional family

According to Helen Bernie, DO, MPH, assistant professor of Urology and director of Sexual and Reproductive Medicine at Indiana University, and the Andrology fellowship director, Rabinowitz treated his students and residents as more than colleagues, but as part of his professional family. “Ron goes above and beyond,” she said. “He is a teacher, a coach, a friend, an advocate, a sponsor. But more than that, even after you leave, you are still part of his extended family, and he will always look out for you.”

Helen Bernie, DO, MPH, with Indiana University and Rabinowitz.

At the time of her oral boards, Bernie was expecting her third child. She considered delaying the exam for a year. Rabinowitz took the time late at night to help convince her to take the boards, by encouraging her to believe in herself and by stressing the need to balance work and family.

Two years ago, Rabinowitz invited Bernie to write part of a book to accompany the history exhibit at the annual AUA meeting. He also invited her to participate in the annual ethics debate on sexual dysfunction. Rabinowitz made himself available to help her prepare.

Bernie also remains amazed at how much she learned from Rabinowitz. “Even now, years after my URMC residency, I can utilize the techniques I learned from Ron in my current practice,” she added.

“Teaching is in my DNA”

Rabinowitz grew up a mile from the steel mills along Pittsburgh’s Monongahela River. When he was 2 years old, he suffered an acute asthma attack that sent him to the hospital emergency room. This ER visit–and subsequent hospital stays–spurred his interest in becoming a doctor. While in medical school, after spending time in pediatric offices, he decided that he wanted to specialize instead of becoming a primary care physician. During his residency, while caring for children with urological conditions, he first thought about being a pediatric general surgeon, and he became interested in treating children with birth defects through reconstructive procedures.

Rabinowitz continues to provide comprehensive care for children with a broad range of anatomic and functional genitourinary abnormalities.

It is not surprising that Rabinowitz would become a physician and a teacher. His older brother was a mathematics professor, and his younger brother is a retired professor of pediatrics and family medicine. “I guess teaching is in my blood,” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz attended Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice High School and is a member of its Hall of Fame. At his induction ceremony, he added to the school’s motto: “Know Something. Do Something. Be Something.” He always thought it needed a fourth tenet: “Teach Something.”

It may not be part of the school’s official slogan, but it is the motto to which Rabinowitz has devoted his professional life and career.