2023 Top Doctor: Rick Low, M.D.

Editorial StaffMarch 1, 2023
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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

General Surgery

Med School/Year Graduated: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1994

Years in Practice: 24

As a board-certified general surgeon, you need to be versatile with the scalpel. What are the most common procedures you perform?  

Without a doubt, it’s hernia repair. This includes inguinal hernias [in the groin area] in addition to umbilical and ventral hernias. Although all labeled as “hernias,” they vary so much in their complexity. Inguinal hernias, for example, have a 99 percent success rate [while] ventral hernias fail at least 20 percent of the time [due to] patient- or case-specific factors. An experienced surgeon must successfully identify and manage those factors and tailor the operation to the patient’s needs to deliver a successful outcome. It’s this complexity which I really enjoy.

How much specialization is there within your field? Do some surgeons, for instance, work only on one organ, like the liver or gallbladder?  

General surgeons have generally resisted specialization for the most part. While some gravitate to bariatrics or breast surgery or hepatobiliary surgery [liver and gall bladder], most – like myself – have yet to specialize. I think that’s why we chose general surgery as our field: We dislike repetition and monotony. 

You were an early adopter of robotic surgery. Can you talk a bit about its impact in your field?

The impact has been phenomenal, but the reality is that we’ve only seen a glimpse of its true impact upon surgery. [I believe] artificial intelligence will soon combine with computer-assisted surgery to show its true potential for improving patient outcomes. 

You’re from Hawaii! What do you miss most about the islands? Favorite place in the Valley for Hawaiian food?

There’s no doubt that most kamaainas, which is what we call native Hawaiians, miss two things most: the food and people. I’m no different. My favorite place for Hawaiian food in the Valley happens to be my own kitchen, and passing on my love of the food of Hawaii down to my kids.

Speaking of kids, you have five. What do enjoy doing together as a family in your downtime?

From the moment I leave them for work, my entire day is focused [on] getting back together and having fun. While competitive sports like club baseball and soccer usually dominate our time, massaging aching, growing athletic muscles or playing games provide the most valued moments together before putting each of them to bed. 

Has any TV show or movie accurately depicted your field?

I always refer back to one of my all-time favorite shows, M*A*S*H. Surgery wasn’t [depicted as] glamorous nor flashy or sexy, but had moments in which the doctor-patient experience was priceless. That’s true about the day-to-day practice of surgery truly as it exists. It’s tedious and mentally, emotionally and physically challenging, but meaningful.