“My heart and soul were always at Riley”

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01/18/2024

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Dr. Mark Cain returns to Riley, dividing his time between urology and strategy as surgeon-in-chief.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

He’s been gone four years, but Dr. Mark Cain is a familiar face around Riley Children’s Health, stopping to exchange hellos, handshakes and hugs with people as he walks the halls.

After all, he enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a surgeon with Riley’s top-ranked pediatric urology team, serving as division chief for several years, before being wooed away to Seattle Children’s in 2019.

Even though he had been at Riley for 23 years, his roots were in the Pacific Northwest – he grew up in Oregon the son of service-oriented parents and went to medical school there – so the pull toward home was strong.

Still, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave.

“My heart and soul were always at Riley,” he said. “My kids grew up here; they were Riley kids. They benefited from the great care that we stand for at Riley.”

He and his wife, Charla, had deep ties to the community.

“I knew I was leaving something really good here, but I didn’t know how much that was going to impact my work philosophy and my happiness, to be honest with you.”

RENOWNED IN HIS FIELD

And now, as Riley celebrates its 100th birthday this year, he’s back – this time as surgeon-in-chief, representing the nine surgical divisions within the hospital. In his new role, the internationally known urologist who has authored some 300 papers and book chapters and trained too many young surgeons to count will split his time between surgery and strategy.

“As surgeon-in-chief, you need to be involved in surgeries because you have to see what’s happening on the ground, so half my time still will be as an active surgeon.”

That’s good news for some of his former patients and families, who have already reached out to reconnect, personally and professionally.

“I have two dates already – to watch a former patient from about 16 years ago swim in a high school meet and to have lunch with the grandfather of another,” he said last week.

He chuckles when he talks about the day he and Chief Operating Officer John Harding walked through the hospital’s sterile processing and surgery areas.

“We barely made it through because everybody had to stop and give me a hug,” he said. “It was delightful.”

“IT’S NICE TO BE BACK IN INDIANA”

That’s one of the many things that make Riley special, said Dr. Cain, who did his residency at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center and fellowship training in pediatric urology at the Mayo Clinic. Currently, he is a trustee and president-elect of the American Board of Urology.

“People here appreciate Riley. It’s nice to see that. It’s nice to be back in Indiana,” he said. “There’s a positivity that’s refreshing, and I took it for granted when I left.”

But it also speaks to the surgeon himself, said Dr. Richard Rink, a distinguished urologist himself and former division chair who hired Dr. Cain in 1996 to join the Riley team and considers him a good friend.

“He’s just one of those people that others gravitate toward.”

He is personable, very bright, a family man, gifted surgeon, excellent doctor and someone who has the ability to be a great administrator, Dr. Rink said.

“He’s one of the rare people that is the entire package.”

As division chief several years ago, following in Dr. Rink’s footsteps, Dr. Cain took an already well-respected Riley urology program to greater heights.

“He just did an outstanding job,” Dr. Rink said. “Hats off to the Riley administration and IU Health for luring him back from his Northwest roots. Not only did our department get a leader and gifted surgeon back, but Riley hired a star.”

TALKING STRATEGY

Dr. Cain enjoys the challenge of surgery, the relationships he builds with patients and families and the satisfaction that comes from helping kids, but he says he is excited about the strategy portion of the job.

“You have to be at the table to help understand strategy and how it trickles down to the surgeon and the programs and the divisions,” he said.

Having the time to devote to strategy is a gamechanger for Dr. Cain, who worked with Seattle Children’s to expand its reach in the Northwest and intends to do the same for Riley.

“I’ve been a strategist since the early days,” he said. “Urology was an early adopter of this hub-and-spoke clinic program around the state. That was always in my mind – how we would grow our program – and I think the hospital has a need to do that.”

Riley’s urology team, ranked third in the nation for pediatric urology care by U.S. News & World Report in 2023, takes on more clinical care procedures than any other pediatric urology division in the nation, operating 17 clinics throughout the state.

Dr. Cain wants to see that replicated in other divisions. There is a big opportunity to create change, he said, not just for one patient, but for the future of healthcare delivery.

“We’re in a really competitive market now. Bringing excellent care to people in the far reaches of the state is going to be important for our families in Indiana.”

RILEY IS THE “CROWN JEWEL”

Riley President Gil Peri introduced Dr. Cain in a Riley One Team Town Hall last month.

“He has a passion for this mission, and he understands that every child in the state of Indiana deserves Riley,” Peri said.

On top of that, “he has a really great strategic sense about how to make that happen.”

Change can be painful, Dr. Cain said, “but it’s going to be a requirement to maintain Riley as the crown jewel.”

Dr. Rosalia Misseri, who currently leads the urology division, said Dr. Cain's return to Riley as surgeon-in-chief "fills us with renewed energy and optimism."

"For over 20 years, he had been a cornerstone of our pediatric urology team, not only for his exceptional surgical skills, but also for his leadership, guidance and unwavering dedication to our patients and our mission," she said.

The new surgeon-in-chief replaces longtime Riley surgeon-in-chief Dr. Fred Rescorla, who will continue his clinical practice. Dr. Rescorla and his predecessor, the late Dr. Jay Grosfeld, kept up busy surgery schedules while also juggling the demands of the surgeon-in-chief role.

The newly defined job description will give Dr. Cain the time to invest in strategic planning, surgical coaching, efficiencies in the OR and opportunities for growth.

Efficiency isn’t about being fast, he explained. It’s what patients want, and it happens when everyone works together with that One Team approach.

“It’s about the whole space – how people move through registration; turning rooms over in a safe, clean environment; keeping the day moving for patients. It’s not about the speed of surgery, it’s about getting the system to work efficiently.”

BRINGING CARE TO MORE KIDS

He points to several areas around the Riley operating rooms, including the Riley Outpatient surgery center, as models of care and efficiency for children who need less complex care procedures.

“People love it because everyone is engaged and involved in the process. That’s a good thing for us as a team and for the families.”

Ultimately, the goal is to have integrated networks across the state – that “hub-and-spoke” he mentioned – as well as more collaborative relationships with other hospitals, “really bringing Riley physicians farther around the state and supporting this main hospital we’re sitting in now to take care of the sickest kids in the state.”

With their three children grown and established in their own careers, the Cains have settled into the Chatham Arch neighborhood in Downtown Indianapolis.

Charla Cain, who has a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University, formerly led Timmy Global Health, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower communities to address health disparities in a sustainable way.

Currently, she is traveling back and forth from the Northwest, managing the vineyard and lavender farm the couple purchased and hope to retire to someday.

As they adjust to life back in Indianapolis, Dr. Cain said the revitalization and growth around the city are exciting. And the cuisine is better than he remembered.

Just one complaint.

“I forgot how cold it gets here.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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