As a young, curious child, Dr. Ju was always trying to figure out how things worked. When he was growing up in Houston, his parents – a computer programmer mom and a chemical engineer dad – encouraged his curiosity about how things worked.
“I spent a lot of time taking things such as microwave ovens and lamps apart and then putting them back together,” he said in a recent interview. “In spite of having no doctors in my family, I was interested in biology and the human body at a very early age. I was fortunate to do some research at Baylor Hospital when I was in high school and was allowed to shadow a surgeon early on. This got me interested in medicine.”
Next stop for Dr. Ju was the prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He majored in biology and wrote an honors thesis in neurobiology as an undergraduate. He decided to attend medical school and was accepted to one of the best in the country.
“I went to medical school at Harvard and then stayed in Boston for my residency training,” he said.
His time in Boston was marked by a tragic event that forever changed the way this young, brilliant surgeon would perceive the world around him. No amount of academic success, parental support and training could have prepared him for what was to happen on the darkest day the city of Boston has ever witnessed.
The Boston Marathon Bombing
On the morning of April 15, 2013, both visitors and Bostonians alike were excited about participating in or watching the 117th Annual Boston Marathon. No one could guess the extent of the tragedy that was to follow.
For Dr. Kevin Ju, it was another day of his residency training at Boston Children’s Hospital. He was on call in the emergency room. Three years later, he still remembers how difficult this experience was and how it made him a better doctor.
“The hardest thing any doctor has to do is triage emergency patients in a trauma setting,” he said. “You are forced to make difficult decisions. When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, this was the most difficult time I have ever experienced.
“We had many children coming to our emergency room who had been badly injured by the bombs, but there was a limited number of surgeons and operating rooms available to treat them. We had to make a decision about which son or daughter we were going to get into the OR first and which patients might be able to wait another 30 minutes. Those decisions are never easy but sometimes you have to make them.
“Fortunately, we were able to get all of the patients in the operating room and treated appropriately and properly,” he said. “However, going through it was extremely stressful.”
This traumatic experience clearly changed Dr. Ju. He realized the fragility of human life and how important it is for a surgeon to remain clear-headed and focused on the job at hand, regardless of the chaos that might be surrounding him.
Why Dr. Ju Chose Texas Back Institute
Why did this highly intelligent, successful young surgeon choose Texas Back Institute? For Dr. Ju, it was a perfect situation.
“We treat any spinal condition, no matter how big or small the problem,” he said. “Besides excelling clinically, Texas Back Institute has an impressive reputation for research and education.
“I got involved in basic scientific research early on and started doing medical research and teaching when I was at Harvard Medical School. Joining TBI not only allows me to continue to advance in the field of spine surgery with the Texas Back Institute Foundation, but their fellowship program allows me to train the next generation of spine surgeons. I have been fortunate to have had many excellent teachers and through this fellowship program, I can pass this along.”
A Conservative Medical Philosophy
His training and experiences have enabled Dr. Ju to have confidence and maturity based on a conservative philosophy.
“My philosophy is to closely listen to my patients to understand how their symptoms are impacting their lives,” he said. “Not everyone with the same symptoms should get the same treatment. It should be individualized to each patient based on their goals.
“I am also not afraid to spend the time to explain the diagnosis and the process for treatment,” he said. “I want to make sure they get answers to all their questions. I believe that if patients understand the treatment and agree that this is the best approach, better outcomes result.
“Finally, I am a conservative surgeon. I am a firm believer in trying all other modalities – highly targeted physical therapy or medications – before prescribing surgery. Surgery should be a last resort, but if it is necessary, my approach would be to craft the surgery to be minimally invasive with the least disruption possible for the patient.”
To listen to the complete interview with Dr. Kevin Ju, click on the SpineTalk podcast.
If you’re experiencing back pain due to injury or illness, click here to set an appointment to see Dr. Ju or any of the other spine specialists at Texas Back Institute.