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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 177 - January 8th, 2019
Happy New Year, everyone. You know, studies repeatedly show that doctors often set up their practices where they complete their graduate medical education. Fortunately, we have, as vice-chairman of the UNLV School of Medicine Community Engagement Board, Dr. K. Warren Volker, a physician who used his own foundation to create an internationally renowned minimally invasive surgery fellowship that is now affiliated with our new medical school. Because we want to keep our medical school graduates in Nevada, Dr. Volker’s background is especially helpful as we work to produce more residencies and fellowships in Southern Nevada. I trust you’ll enjoy learning more about Dr. Volker, who stayed in Las Vegas after completing a residency in OB-GYN, going on to forge a remarkable career as a clinician, researcher, academician and medical entrepreneur.   
Barbara signature, first name only
Dr. K. Warren Volker: Building Better Healthcare
Dr. K. Warren Volker, UNLV School of Medicine Community Engagement Board Vice-Chair, clinician, researcher, academician and medical entrepreneur
Today, as you read the resume/CV of Dr. K. Warren Volker, the chief clinical officer of Davita Medical Group-Healthcare Partners of Nevada, a network of more than 310 primary care physicians and more than 1700 specialists, it’s easy to assume he knew very early on he wanted to enter the medical profession -- and that he carefully planned a career where the understanding of healthcare finance was paramount.

But Volker’s career path hardly followed a straight line.

He grew up in a family of seven children in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the son of a man who loved horses and owned and operated Volker’s Imports, an automobile dealership.

“For a long time, I really thought I was going to follow my father into the automobile business,” Volker said recently as he sat in his office off East Warm Springs Road. ”I was intrigued with how a vet worked with our horses, but never thought of pursuing that career.”  

He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in finance at the University of North Dakota in his hometown. But the love for science he found in high school also prompted him to go after a degree in natural sciences. “I got a double major just because I loved science so much,” Volker said.” There was no plan to become a doctor at that point, I just loved science.”

During his undergraduate studies -- he completed his double major with high honors -- Volker’s love for science won out over his fascination with finance. His childhood memories of a vet treating horses launched a desire to use science and medicine another way.

“I wanted to use my talents to help people,” he said.
“When I’ve seen a need, I try to find a solution,” said Volker, who began a nonprofit foundation to fund endeavors that include Las Vegas Minimally Invasive Surgery, through which he created a fellowship.
He went back to his alma mater to pick up a master’s degree in biochemistry to better ready himself for medical school. An adviser, aware of Volker’s love for research, suggested he pursue both a medical degree and a PhD in science. Awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship, he received both his medical degree and a PhD in molecular biology from the University the North Dakota. His PhD dissertation, which dealt with the molecular structure of genes leading to breast cancer, led him to pursue a OB-GYN residency in 1997.

“Many people expected me to go to a well known academic center, but I wanted to go somewhere where I’d be immersed in clinical care,” Volker said. It turned out that a residency though University Medical Center and the University of Nevada Reno Medical School would allow him to do just that. “At UMC, we were doing 500 deliveries a month.”

He so impressed the Reno medical school that he was asked to join the faculty after finishing his residency, also directing research in the OB-GYN department.

In 2003, after leaving his faculty appointment, his business acumen began to show even as he received advanced training in minimally invasive surgery. He was one of the first surgeons in Nevada to be trained on the da Vinci Surgical system, a robotic surgical tool.

He started Women’s Specialty Care, a clinic where he was CEO and managing partner. That single clinic would eventually morph into 16 and become known as WellHealth Quality Care. In 2017, DaVita Medical Group-Healthcare Partners acquired WellHealth and asked him to stay on as chief clinical officer. He now directs the group on how best to fill the healthcare needs of Southern Nevada.

While directing his clinics, he also found time in 2006, when doctors were finding it difficult to obtain malpractice insurance, to found Premier Physicians Insurance Company. In 2017, after it became one of the five largest malpractice insurance companies in Nevada, he sold the enterprise. His undergraduate work in financial management, he says, has been indispensable in helping him navigate the complex world of healthcare finance.

“When I’ve seen a need, I try to find a solution,” said Volker, who began a nonprofit foundation to fund endeavors that include Las Vegas Minimally Invasive Surgery, through which he created a fellowship. Originally affiliated with the University of Nevada Reno Medical School and UCLA, the fellowship, now under the auspices of the UNLV School of Medicine, offers training in the latest minimally invasive surgical and non-surgical treatments for gynecologic and uro-gynecologic issues.

Each year more than 60 doctors from around the country apply for the two fellowship spots. Since 2009, many fellows trained here stay in Las Vegas, including two surgeons now working with the program.

“I want to see Las Vegas get more specialty care,” said Volker, who as program director for the fellowship, and as a UNLV School of Medicine clinical professor still performs procedures on women who come to Las Vegas from throughout the country. Las Vegas Minimally Invasive Surgery is one of only 44 such centers in the country.

Long recognized for his surgical work in women’s healthcare, Volker frequently lectures. In October he will deliver a lecture at MIT to minimally invasive surgeons from throughout the world. Many of those surgeons use a surgical device that he created with another surgeon for minimally invasive surgery used for women’s health issues. Called the McCarus-Volker Fornisee System, it is one of the most used surgical devices in women’s health care.

Volker, now chief of staff at Centennial Hills Hospital, hopes to expand his work internationally. In the wake of the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico, he took a healthcare team there to work on pressing healthcare needs. One of his sons, a commercial jet pilot, flew the plane into an airport that had been largely decimated by effects of the hurricane. “There are critical needs around the world,” said Volker, who recently became involved with One World Surgery, which brings much needed surgical talent to Honduras and Dominican Republic.

Volker, now in his 50s, finds energy for his myriad interests through regular physical training. Every day he does weight and cardio training, using it not only for better health but to get in shape for a Spartan Race somewhere in the world. A Spartan Race, which can be anywhere in length from 10 miles to a marathon, involves overcoming obstacles that smack of military training.

Volker is optimistic about the future of the UNLV School of Medicine.

“It’s something we have long needed...that I was proud to lobby for in the state capital,” he said. “I know Dr. Atkinson has the school on the right track.”

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According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nearly half of all OB-GYN residents and 58.7 percent of practicing OB-GYNS are women, a much higher proportion than any other group of active surgeons. In the next 10 years, 66 percent of OB-GYNS are expected to be female.

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