Determination, Dedication, and Purpose: A Journey from the Czech Republic Led to a Prestigious and Important Career Path

While Dr. Petr Ruzicka, MD, ’76 is the newly appointed President of the University of Minnesota Medical School Alumni Relations Board, he is also completing his certification as a Certified Physician Leader (CPE) and plans to commence with his MBA in the near future. He has also opened a consulting firm. As the COO, he aims to bring innovative neurosurgical treatment to smaller hospitals in underserved areas in the U.S. However, the path to his success was not easy. Wrought by pain and loss, absolute determination guided his experiences.

Born in Czechoslovakia, which is now the Czech Republic, he wanted to become a physician-neurosurgeon, but the communist government during his childhood did not approve of his goals. While he attended middle school, the government informed him that he could not gain entrance into medical school because his family did not belong to the communist party. His family was persecuted and several relatives were killed based on this bias, so his family escaped to Austria. His father was a leading specialist in mica paper production and established numerous patents in the field. In order to convince his parents to return to the country, there were several attempts to kidnap Dr. Ruzicka when he was fourteen years old. While in Austria, the family decided to move to Australia because of the kidnapping attempts. However, the U.S., being fully aware of his father’s inventions, convinced his father to move to North America. After a short stay in New York City, they finally settled in St. Paul, Minnesota where 3M incorporated many of his father’s inventions.

From there, Dr. Ruzicka graduated from Harding High School in St. Paul and was accepted into the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts. 

“That gave me hope that once I mastered the English language, I may after all become a neurosurgeon. My major was microbiology and my minor was immunology. I had the opportunity to meet many great doctors at the University’s hospital where I worked part time to have a better understanding of the American hospital system.”

Once he graduated after four years of college, he was admitted into the University of Minnesota Medical School, Twin Cities where he completed a medical degree. “It was a very gratifying feeling to finally accomplish my dream,” he said.

From there, he was accepted into the University of Minnesota Medical School’s neurosurgical residency program. He spent two years in Hawaii as a resident in general surgery and then he completed his residency training back in the Twin Cities. Although the residency experience is rigorous, he also attended the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Health Sciences with a major in neurophysiology and a minor in neuroanatomy. 

“My training prepared me not only for clinical aspects of my professional life, but also for the education of others and for administrative demands. Expectations were that all graduates would become leaders across the country,” Dr. Ruzicka said.

While following and actively seeking his dream, Dr. Ruzicka acknowledges that he was guided by the physician’s true mission, which is to provide medical care to all in need and to accomplish it in all societies. 

“I decided to join a medical school in Newark, New Jersey to provide and improve medical care to the underserved population,” Dr. Ruzicka said. “I was given the opportunity to create the first pediatric neurosurgical center in New Jersey, which was located in the United Children’s Hospital. I restructured the hospital to provide improved care of neurosurgical pediatric patients. This was for children who would otherwise have to be transferred out of state.” 

The center became a training site for pediatric neurosurgical rotations where Dr. Ruzicka worked closely with the state government, medical school and hospital administrators to accomplish the mission of the center. 

“Patients no longer needed to travel out of state to get the care they needed,” Dr. Ruzicka said. “I was then recognized by the governor for this effort.” 

Elected to the hospital’s executive committee, Dr. Ruzicka assumed numerous hospital leadership positions, including membership with the United Medical Center Foundation Board. He was instrumental in creating statewide hydrocephalus, spina bifida and craniofacial programs. 

“This was also extended to prenatal care of mothers with fetal congenital malformations, which was also supported by insurance companies,” Dr. Ruzicka said. “Building bridges and collaboration with high-risk obstetricians and other pediatric surgical and medical specialists was essential to the effort. I was able to create a Division of Pediatric Craniofacial and Neurological Surgery.” 

Due to the structure of the hospital, he also saw the need to create a Department of Pediatric Surgical Specialties in order to better serve the population in a systematic and organized fashion. 

“I became Chair of the Department and was responsible for pediatric surgical services in several other hospitals throughout the state,” he said.

As a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, he was an associate professor and taught medical students and residents. Invited to help build pediatric neurological services in Cardon Children’s Medical Center, he served as Chief of Pediatric Craniofacial and Neurological Surgery where he became Chair of Pediatric Surgical Services and Medical Director of Pediatric Medical and Surgical Services. 

“I expanded the fetal congenital malformation services and built bridges with hospitals throughout the state, including the Indian Reservation Hospitals,” Dr. Ruzicka said.

“That gave me hope that once I mastered the English language, I may after all become a neurosurgeon. My major was microbiology and my minor was immunology. I had the opportunity to meet many great doctors at the University’s hospital where I worked part time to have a better understanding of the American hospital system.”

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