SARASOTA – Robert Carey is a doctor of medicine and a fellowship-trained urologic surgeon. He holds a doctorate of chemistry, a bachelor of science in chemistry and a bachelor of arts in German. But all his education and accomplishments were made possible by what he inherited at a very young age: Fascination and appreciation for the world around him.
Carey’s childhood was diverse geographically. His parents had homes in Edgefield, S.C., and Hope Town, Abaco in the Bahamas. His mother was a bookkeeper and director of religious studies in several churches. His father was director of the Bahamas Meteorology Department, was trained as a classic sailing ship captain and also held a masters degree in divinity.
“My childhood was a beautiful combination of enjoying and experiencing my father’s family in the Bahamas, all of whom descended from the American loyalists who had left the American colonies in the 1780s after the American Revolution, and my mother’s family, who descended from the early pioneers to western South Carolina and arrived there in the 1760s.” Both families were tough, disciplined people,” said Carey.
“In my home my brother and I read classic literature, recited poetry and learned the basics of engineering, math and sailing with my Dad. We experienced the seasons and the tides. Children did chores. I don’t remember my parents ever being overbearing. These were just the habits of life,” he said.
But Carey “always knew I wanted to be a scientist and probably knew I wanted to be a surgeon,” he said. “I loved the outdoors. In the Bahamas, I was always in the water spearfishing or on remote islands exploring. In South Carolina, I was always out exploring creeks, helping family and neighbors grow and gather crops or hunt for game.”
It was during those times, Carey said, that he “looked at the colors and shapes around me and I was fascinated with how things in our world worked. ... Very early I learned and studied the anatomy of animals and fish that we ate,” he remembered.
A supportive network of extended family furthered Carey’s fascinations. “Our house was always filled with (family), good friends and neighbors ... They loved me, supported me and helped me to dream big and work hard,” he said.
Another big influence was Carey’s older brother John. “When he went off to college a year early, he was very generous in sharing his experiences with me. I recognized I could also succeed and left to go to college several years early,” Carey said.
At Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Carey majored in chemistry and foreign languages (German) and earned both degrees in four years. Even though he knew he eventually would go to medical school, he accepted an invitation to work toward his PhD in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was a long investment of time and it was humbling to have Nobel laureates scratch their heads as they tried to teach (me),” he said.
After earning his PhD, Carey entered a fellowship that “put me in Berlin in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down,” he said. “Also, it enabled me to have three years as an assistant professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. These years abroad ... allowed me to expand the depth and breadth of my American education considerably.”
Returning to the U.S., Carey completed a National Institutes of Health fellowship at Harvard University before accepting a position as an assistant professor of chemistry and researcher at the University of Georgia. Only then did he enroll at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. He received his MD in 2000. Residencies in surgery and urology at the University of Miami were followed by a fellowship in robotic surgery, laparoscopy, and endourology.
Carey said he never reconsidered his decision to specialize in urologic cancer surgery. “Urology has more than 40 percent of the visceral malignancies (kidney, ureter, bladder, prostate, testicular) and I felt that my background as a PhDscientist would be valuable to the understanding of these cancers,” he said. It was a good choice, Carey said, because he “can see the world through the eyes of a scientist and that makes me a better surgeon.”
Carey moved to Sarasota in 2006 to join the Urology Treatment Center, which was founded by Winston E. Barzell, MD, in 1978. There, Carey specializes in robotic and minimally invasive cancer surgeries using the da Vinci® Surgical System. He said he has done more than 1,000 robotic and laparoscopic surgeries for prostate cancer and kidney cancer in the past 5 years, many at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.
Carey also has his own pharmaceutical company, MaxC Pharm. He said he holds several patents for drug delivery of chemotherapy to treat cancer and other diseases of the kidney and ureter. “My technology uses phase transition polymers, which are pumpable liquids when cold, but which gel and conform to the inside of the kidney when at body temperature,” he explained. He is hopeful it will be approved for widespread usage by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “It is not something that will ever be profitable, but it will allow many people with kidney cancer to save their kidney and stay off dialysis,” he said.
But research and technology are only two components Carey uses to achieve his true calling, which is to “help individuals one by one. ... I’ve found my niche in life (and) I’m truly happy to come to work every day.”
Still, Carey’s professional accomplishments are no substitute for the satisfaction he reaps from his personal life. He is married to Donna Lynn Carey, MD, a general surgeon, native of St. Petersburg and the mother of their three children, Maximilian, 7, Helen, 4, and Elizabeth, 2. “The best three days of our lives have been the births of our children.”
Donna and he are doing what they can to honor his parents’ legacies in child-rearing, Carey said. “I return to the places of my childhood with my wife and children. I love to walk through the forests and creeks of Edgefield County (South Carolina) and see them through the eyes of a 7-year-old again. I look forward to watching my children learn to sail in Nassau Harbor, just like I did,” he said.
“One day I hope to make the transition from being a doctor to a farmer or forester. I want to have the opportunity to have a special piece of land and to help my wife and children shape and preserve it.