Alumnus’ gift to support training for future fellow surgeons

Medical rotations are full of life-changing moments and career-shaping experiences. For J. Anthony Rakowski, D.O.’05, one such experience occurred during his hospital rotations: His supervisors were “amazed” at what he already knew how to do in the operating room compared to students from other schools.

“Surgery had not been on my radar – I thought I was going to do family medicine or sports medicine – but that gave me my first glimpse that I could really do surgery,” he says. “As a student at DMU, we had an intensive six- to eight-week surgical course in which we learned to gown, glove and do suturing. That gave me a push.”

Now the director of gynecological oncology for Sparrow Health System in Lansing, MI, Dr. Rakowski recently made a gift to DMU’s Purple & Proud Campaign to give that positive “push” to future DMU students: He seized the opportunity to name the Rakowski Surgical Skills Laboratory in the Simulation Center on the University’s new campus in West Des Moines. His gift has made him a member of the DMU Founders Society, which honors donors for cumulative lifetime gifts of $100,000 and more.

“If I can help the next generation of physicians advance their surgical skills, that’s my goal. When I heard DMU was going to open a new campus, I thought about what had been set up for me as a student,” he says. “There’s so much more to learn now than when I was at DMU and more technology to support it with simulation and medical mannequins.”

Dr. Rakowski chose obstetrics and gynecology because he enjoys its variety, from performing surgery to delivering babies. After a few years into his internship and residency at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, MI, he decided he wanted to do more. When one of his attendings was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he realized there were few gynecological oncologists in community-based settings. He “took a leap of faith” and applied and was accepted into the three-year gynecologic oncology fellowship program at AdventHealth Orlando Cancer Institute in Florida.

Now an expert at minimally invasive and robotic procedures and other cancer treatments, he and his team provide the full spectrum of services for women with a wide variety of benign and malignant gynecologic conditions. Despite the difficult cases he encounters, he finds his work to be very rewarding.

 “I always tell people that even on my worst days, it’s not as bad as the patient who gets the diagnosis of cancer. But my patients are amazing, and they have the faith in us to take them through the journey and, hopefully, into remission,” he says. “We have a great team that provides comprehensive services, and our patients appreciate everything we do.”

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