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Caregiving in Action: Dr. Richard Roberts

Doctor Richard Roberts

During his residency at the Children's Hospital of New Orleans, Dr. Richard Roberts stood at the head of a young patient's bed, rolling him down the hospital corridor. The patient had just come out of brain surgery when he looked up at Dr. Roberts and asked, "Can I go home now?" It was at that moment he knew he had to work in pediatrics.

"For children, it's all about getting out of the hospital," said Dr. Roberts. "Everything they do is to get back to their mom's cooking, their friends and their toys. Everything that they do is to get better. It is an amazing thing to see that kind of spirit in a patient. And, as it turns out, those patients are children."

Richard Roberts, M.D., Cook Children's neurosurgeon, didn't always know that he wanted to go into medicine. In fact, he majored in philosophy and worked as a mechanic, a contractor and a roofer before finding his true calling as a brain surgeon. Since joining Cook Children's Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center in 2007, Dr. Roberts has performed more than 2,000 surgeries and saved many lives.

Richard Roberts was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He declared three majors before earning a degree in philosophy. Unsure of what he wanted to do, he worked for five years as a mechanic, a contractor and a roofer.

One day a friend, who happened to be a medical student, encouraged him to try medical school. Roberts agreed to test it. While working days as a roofer, Roberts took his prerequisite courses at night and began medical school at Louisiana State University at the age of 28. He intended to be a small-town, family practice doctor.

During his first year of medical school, he attended a lecture given by the school's renowned Chair of Neurosurgery that included a video of a basilar tip brain aneurysm surgery. "The aneurysm was in the deepest part of the brain, impossible to get to," Roberts explained. "When he finished his lecture, the physician giving the lecture pointed across the screen and said ‘this entire area is the size of a centimeter.'" Dr. Roberts was hooked.

Dr. Roberts went on to do additional training with an orthopedic surgeon, in order to gain a unique perspective on how other specialists look at the spine and how they approach repairing it. It was the physical and mechanical aspects of repairing spines that intrigued him – putting in screws and rods to straighten the spine, in addition to operating on tumors of the brain and spine.

When Dr. Roberts came to Cook Children's in 2007, he joined two other top pediatric neurosurgeons, and a team of professionals that he describes as invaluable. He regularly consults directly with physicians and specialists across the medical center. He says this open, easy collaboration is one of the greatest benefits of working for Cook Children's Health Care System.

Since being at Cook Children's, both of Dr. Robert's own daughters have been patients. When one daughter had ear tubes put in, it was knowing the anesthesiologists and how careful they are, that eased his mind the most.

His other daughter had tethered spine surgery, a surgery that Dr. Roberts performs on a regular basis. Just as he trusts his partners to care for his patients when he is away from the medical center, he wholeheartedly trusted them to perform surgery on his own daughter.

"Like any other parent, I went to pre-op. When it was time for her to go back, I gave her a hug and a kiss. She was taken to the operating room and I went to the waiting room," Dr. Roberts described.

"I knew how long the surgery takes because I do it all the time. And I made it all of seven minutes before looking at the clock. I know how safe the surgery is, but having that parent experience is very different."

"Dr. Roberts is often thanked by families for performing a life-saving procedure on their child," said Grace Crotzer, physician assistant to Dr. Roberts. "He will always bring the spotlight back to the patient and tell families that he only worked a few hours, whereas their child had the actual hard work during the recovery process. I admire Dr. Roberts in so many ways and consider myself lucky to learn from him every day."

Fun facts about Dr. Roberts

  • He has been married to his wife, Katy, for 11 years. They have two beautiful daughters, Lexie and Janie.
  • His go-to music for surgery is punk rock and heavy metal. Sometimes his daughters' music makes it into the mix, including the soundtrack to Disney's "Frozen."
  • Dr. Roberts says his training as an Eagle Scout taught him the importance of being kind, respectful and prepared, qualities he displays daily as a physician.
  • Dr. Roberts appeared on an episode of the Dr. Oz show that highlighted medical miracles.
  • To help himself relax, Dr. Roberts drives his race car at a local track. The sport allows him the same intensity as surgery, without having to think about patients who may be terminal.

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