Father-Son Surgery Legacy Comes Full Circle at OU Health
Published: Friday, November 18, 2022
EDMOND — As a third-generation surgeon, OU Health general surgeon Alex Raines, M.D., was exposed to medicine from a young age and admired the role his father played in his patients’ lives. That admiration was reciprocated recently at OU Health when his father, Ed Raines, M.D., arrived from out of state for a temporary surgery assignment and visited his son’s operating room for the first time.
Ed Raines was filled with pride upon seeing his son’s achievements and for the positive environment he has created for his patients, his trainees and the team surrounding him. In return, Alex was gratified by his colleagues’ warm welcome to the man who has given him the most valuable lessons in medicine and in life.
“I think the best part of that day was the phone call we had after the day was over,” Alex said. “My dad said, ‘I’m really proud of your operating room because the culture was good and the team was awesome.’ That meant a lot to me because I know he knows the difference between a good operating room and a bad operating room. He wasn’t just being nice and being my dad. He walked into the operating room and felt a good culture.”
“It was also great to hear from students and residents and office staff about how great it was to work with my dad while he’s been here,” Alex said. “I’ve heard those things my whole life, but hearing them in my own hospital was really nice. It validates everything I’ve heard learned from him — that you create an environment for patients to receive good care and for team members to feel valued.”
The majority of Ed Raines’ career has been in cardiothoracic surgery private practice in Nebraska. He is now doing some regional work as a locum tenens, a Latin phrase that refers to a physician working temporarily in a practice that’s not his own. This year, that work brought him to OU Health for the first time.
Alex said the culture of his own operating room is directly tied to the lessons he learned from his father growing up. Alex distinctly remembers his father introducing him to one of his patients who was about to undergo a heart bypass. Calling her by name, Ed said, “She knows I’ve done thousands of these surgeries and have had really good outcomes. But she doesn’t care about those thousands that I’ve done. She cares about hers.”
“That has stuck with me all these years,” Alex said. “Patients aren’t numbers; they’re people. And while we do surgery every day, that might be the first surgery they’ve ever had.”
“Growing up, I also remember being at school or in the mall and someone would stop me and say, ‘Is your dad Ed Raines?’ Then they would say, ‘He operated on my father’ or ‘He operated on my grandmother.’ I understood then how important those moments are in people’s lives. If a person has surgery, that is usually a milestone moment in their life. And we get to participate in that.”
Alex and his father both attended medical school at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine (as did Alex’s grandfather and uncle). When Alex was in his fourth year of medical school, he spent a one-month rotation in his father’s surgical practice, where he experienced an irony that he laughs about today. At the time, Ed was using robotics to perform some surgeries.
“I should have been in awe of this robot,” Alex said, “but instead I chastised my father for using it. I said, ‘Why are you using this big clunky machine? It’s expensive and it’s unnecessary.’ Fast-forward about 20 years, and now I’m using the robot and in fact have hung my clinical career on robotics because of the value it adds.”
The careers of father and son have taken a few other related, if unexpected, paths. When Ed was applying for residency, his top choice was the Mayo Clinic. He was so sure that was his destination that he almost bought a house there before it was official. As it turned out, his residency match was at the University of Utah Health, which ultimately was the best fit for him. Similarly, Alex had hoped to attend residency at the University of Utah as his father did, but he instead matched at the OU College of Medicine.
“In retrospect, OU should have been my No. 1 pick because this is exactly the culture I fit into and it’s a great program,” Alex said. “That’s been one of my most powerful lessons to relay to students: ‘Don’t hold on too tight to what you think the future is going to be.’”
Since finishing his residency and becoming a faculty member at the OU College of Medicine, Alex’s career has flourished, both as a surgeon and an educator. In addition to his busy surgical practice at OU Health Edmond Medical Center, he teaches medical students and residents. He serves as co-director of the third-year medical student clerkship and as site director for surgery residency training at Edmond Medical Center.
Alex is so well-respected by his colleagues and his students and residents that, earlier this year, he was awarded the Stanton L. Young Master Teacher Award by the OU College of Medicine. It is one of the largest awards in the nation for medical teaching excellence. He is also a member of the college’s Academy of Teaching Scholars, a group of faculty members who seek to improve medical education through scholarship.
Although he hadn’t planned on a career in academic medicine, Alex was drawn to education because it is ultimately another way of helping patients. “I can only operate on so many thousands of patients during my career, but every time I teach a student or resident and they take that into their careers, I’ve indirectly affected many more patients,” he said.
Beyond clinical skills, Alex is also passionate about teaching students and residents how to handle the emotional demands of being a surgeon. “You make connections with your patients. Bad outcomes will sometimes happen. It’s part of being a doctor,” he said. “You need to be able to navigate that not only with the patient but with yourself as well. I enjoy helping students with that emotional intelligence training.”
Seeing his son excel as both a surgeon and an educator is gratifying, Ed said, and he has done so by staying dedicated to his patients and the healthcare team that makes his success possible.
“Being from Nebraska, I used to say that’s what it means to be a Husker — you’re hard-working, you’re honest and you’re not cocky,” said. “I think you can say the same thing about being a Sooner — it means you’re authentic and you treat people right.”