Robert C. Squatrito, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist, Virginia Oncology Associates
Division Director, Gynecologic Oncology, Eastern Virginia Medical School
Had it not been for a kind word from one patient during his medical school rotation in OB/GYN, Dr. Robert Squatrito might have chosen another surgical discipline. “This is a very distinct memory,” he says. “As a med student, you’re the lowest person on the team, so you’re the one seeing patients before dawn, knocking on their doors and waking them up.” He says he’d gotten used to patients grumbling and even “kicking me out of their rooms.” But one morning, he remembers, “I was on gynecological oncology. I knocked on a post-surgery patient’s door at about 4:30, and the patient, who was in her 70s, invited me in and listened to me attentively. And when I left, she thanked me for coming. That was the first time in my career as a med student that I woke someone up who was not only nice to me, but actually thanked me.”
Of course, it takes more than a kind word to build a career. For Dr. Squatrito, surgery itself was always a given: interested in medicine early on, he’d had the opportunity in high school to work with a general surgeon who became not just a role model but a valued family friend as well. “My mother was his office manager,” he remembers, “and he invited me to come to the office, go on rounds with him, and even watch him do surgery.” After college, Dr. Squatrito earned his medical degree at Medical College of Virginia, where he set up an elective rotation that allowed him to return to New Jersey to follow his mentor for a full month.
Like many medical students at that time, he hadn’t been aware of gynecologic oncology as a specific discipline. But in the diseases of the mature patients he encountered, he found both a surgical niche and a patient population that interested him. “I didn’t analyze it at the time,” he says, “but these are people who have headed families. They’ve gone through childbirth. They’ve undergone tremendous stresses. And I knew I could bond with them.”
He was also unaware that the specialty would require seven years of training after medical school: a four-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology and a three-year fellowship in gynecologic oncology. But, as he says, “I’ve always had the attitude that you live your life along the way. I’ve always had a lot of things going on in my life besides medicine.” Case in point: during his fellowship at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, he found time to open a kung fu school.
He always wanted to return to Virginia after graduating from MCV, but there were no openings in his field when he completed his training. Instead, his first job took him to Burlington, as assistant professor at the University of Vermont. He stayed from 1995 to 1998, but because gynecologic oncology fell within OB/GYN, he was covering obstetrics as much as performing surgeries. There was starting to be a movement away from hospitals into private practice, enabling surgeons to avoid routine obstetrical care, and concentrate on their specialized training. He began scanning positions on the East Coast, and found Virginia Oncology Associates, which was then in the process of forming.
“Cancer groups were just beginning to incorporate gynecologic oncology into their practices,” Dr. Squatrito says. “Virginia Oncology was visionary in that regard – they wanted to offer gynecologic oncology.” He came down to Virginia for an interview, liked what he found, and moved here to establish the division of gynecologic oncology at VOA.
Today, the division boasts four fellowship-trained physicians. In the field of gynecologic oncology, Dr. Squatrito says, one of the most exciting recent developments is the switch to robotic surgery. In 2012, he became certified on the daVinci surgical robotic system, and is now considered a thought leader and innovator by Intuitive, the vendor of the system. “It’s a tremendous advantage for women,” he says. “Nearly 95 percent of our minimally invasive surgeries can be done robotically. Some women can go home after only a few hours, or overnight. And many are back to work within one or two weeks. Recovery is quicker, and scarring is minimal.”
That’s important to women, Dr. Squatrito knows. He was recently explaining his procedure for making clean, precise incisions to a medical student. When the student commented that the incision mattered less than the surgery itself, Dr. Squatrito explained that the scar left by the incision would remain with the patient the rest of her life. She would see it every day, and remember the surgeon who gave it to her. “That,” he explained, “is why the incision needs to be as perfect and precise as the surgery itself.”
Such passion for detail is important to this physician, who not only practices the art of surgery, but also teaches the discipline of Chinese martial arts. The school he started in his fellowship days in Iowa is still operating; and when he joined VOA, he opened a school in Virginia Beach, where he and his wife Jennifer teach students the ving tsun style of kung fu.
At the school, he is referred to as “Sifu” or “Master,” rather than “Doctor.”
By either name and in either setting, he is a skilled, dedicated and well-respected practitioner with a passion for excellence.