PHYSICIAN SPOTLIGHT: John D. Nora, MD
Sarasota Surgical Specialists
SARASOTA - For a man who places high values on tradition and persistence, John Nora has not hesitated to embrace change.
“Medicine has always been in my family,” said Nora, a 55-year-old general surgeon in practice at Sarasota Surgical Specialists. “My grandfather, my father and all of my uncles were physicians,” he said, and two of his eight siblings also are physicians, “as are a multitude of cousins who share the Nora name. I am proud to carry on this tradition in my family.”
As for persistence, Nora takes his cue from the 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.”
That is his “favorite quote, one that I have imparted to all my children and one that I try to practice,” said Nora, who recalled one lesson in particular. “When in college, I went through boot camp for U.S. Marine officers and graduated with recognition. Through this experience, I learned the value of persistence and how important a second, third or even fourth effort is to achieve your goals,” said Nora, whose acceptance to medical school supplanted his plans for active duty.
Nora, a Chicago native, also cited his quest to get into medical school at Northwestern University, and later a fellowship at the University of Florida, as other times when persistence paid off. His distinctive performance in medical school led to internship and surgical residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the year he had to wait to enter his vascular surgery fellowship at the University of Florida freed Nora to complete a critical care fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “That was a fantastic experience and added greatly to my abilities and experience,” he said.
After finishing his fellowship in Gainesville, Nora and his wife Joyce, a respiratory therapist he met in medical school and married in 1982, moved to Sarasota – a decision that sort of surprised him. “We’re both Midwesterners and we agreed when we lived in Minnesota that we would never, ever settle below the Mason-Dixon line. When we came to Florida, Joyce had nightmares of gators eating our children,” Nora said. “But after 6 months, she told me ‘If you move back north, please write, because I’m staying here,’” he laughed. “We’re very thankful we landed in Sarasota. It’s a real jewel.”
That was 22 years ago, and since then Nora has established himself as one of the area’s most innovative general surgeons, specializing in robotic surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System.™ In 2011, Nora was the first in the Manatee-Sarasota metro to perform the robotically assisted Roux-en-Y gastric bypass.
“In attempting to accept the challenges of changes in medicine I investigated and then embraced the use of robotic surgery for intra-abdominal surgery,” Nora said. “I have enjoyed the challenge of learning new approaches ... I feel we are at the very beginning of the use of robotic surgery and new advances in technology will only make this more efficient. It truly is a field where only imagination is holding you back as to what can be accomplished. “We’re still learning the applications for it, particularly for general surgery, and that is one of the things that is exciting for me. Some of this is actually trying it on my own experience and interpretations. ... We’re still sorting out how to do it most efficiently and trying different things to improve. We’re plowing new ground,” he said.
Nora confessed that when he first started robotic surgery, he was “a bit of a doubting Thomas. ... But now I am excited about each new case. It’s still not routine and it’s exciting and interesting,” he said, and “I like staying on the cutting edge of things.” Nora said he “would absolutely prefer to be (using) the robot because of benefits to patients,” which include shorter hospital stays, smaller incisions, and less risk of infection.
Nora was quick to praise the administration and staff at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where he does the bulk of his surgeries and is one of three surgeons who comprise the 5-year-old Comprehensive Bariatric Program. His colleagues are Patrick Fitzgerald, MD, and Scott Stevens, MD. Nora credits Fitzgerald, also his business partner, with “doing all the hard work” to create the bariatric program.
“The hospital has done a great job of bringing the staff forward. (The program) has had the challenge of ... being just a few patients shy of getting certified each year, but our results have been way up there and compare to any other program,” Nora said. The hospital, which has procured two surgical robots, “has been very supportive in giving us extra staff during these hard economic times,” he said.
Nora acknowledges that one of the most satisfying aspects of his job is the “opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of my patients.” But the impact patients have on him is important, he said. “I enjoy hearing the life stories of my patients and ... to marvel at their accomplishments, (whether) those of a gardener, construction worker, fisherman or CEO. They all enrich my experience of medicine,” Nora said. “Getting to know them is fun.”
For instance, he, said, “If I find out a patient is an artist (accomplished or not), I insist they give me a piece of their artwork, even if it’s a just a doodle. ... This is just one way I can remember each patient.”
But no matter how gratifying his professional life, Nora’s benchmark for success is at home. “The most positive and fulfilling aspect of my life is my family. Joyce gracefully accepted the challenges of being the wife of a surgeon and readily took on the lead of raising our five children. I still consider myself incredibly lucky to have Joyce as my partner in life as we approach 30 years of marriage,” he said.
The Noras have five children, ages 18-26. Is there a physician among them who will carry on the family tradition?
Nora’s response had a decidedly persistent tone: “That’s still being determined. It’s not over yet.”