Like Father, Like Son: Drs. David and Ben Roye
For these NewYork-Presbyterian orthopedic surgeons, medicine runs in the family.
Dr. Ben Roye was still in diapers when he first went to medical school.
“As a baby he went to class with me,” recalls his father, Dr. David Roye, now chief of the pediatric orthopedic service at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “He then made rounds with me as a very young child. So he had lots of early experience of hospitals and lots of people in white coats.”
But his early introduction to medicine didn’t immediately inspire Ben to become a doctor, let alone encourage him to one day work side by side with his father, which he periodically does these days in the operating room. Back then, he watched his dad work long hours, then come home and fall asleep while Ben tried to pry his eyes open to play.
It wasn’t until Ben was in college, and he observed his father perform a complex spine surgery, that his decision to follow him into the operating room took shape.
“If I had not observed that operation, I might not have gone into medicine,” Ben says. “Seeing inside somebody, watching their heart beat and lungs expand, and then to see your father manipulate a crooked spine was pretty cool,” he recalls.
For David, the idea of becoming a doctor was planted at an early age after he had been hospitalized for an infection.
“I had a serious illness when I was in fifth grade,” he says. “We were living in Japan and I had a strep infection, which ended up creating a kidney inflammation called glomerulonephritis. At the time, you were hospitalized for that. It was a very vulnerable age, and I think I so admired the doctors who treated me. That was my first thought about being a physician.”
The decision to attend medical school came later.
Forging Their Own Paths
At age 20, David married, and in 1967, he volunteered for the draft. He then went to Officer Candidate School, and worked as a company commander in the Army Corps of Engineers until 1969, first in Korea and then in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.
Overseas, his best friend was a physician, and when the soldiers David oversaw were injured, he paid rapt attention to how his friend treated them. After retiring from active duty and finishing college, David began medical school in 1971, a few months after his eldest son, Ben, was born.
Growing up in Manhattan, Ben enjoyed having his dad take him to the hospital and visiting the lab where he was working with rats. As a student, Ben was attracted to the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics, and considered working professionally in one of those fields. Even though he was scientifically inclined, Ben says his parents never pressured him or his siblings to go into medicine. David and his wife, Dr. Carol Roye, who is a Ph.D. nurse practitioner, told their kids they didn’t care what they did for a living, just as long as it was “something that’s important, something that’s worthwhile, something that gives back.”
A Family Affair
Today, Ben, 47, and David, 71, often work side by side as pediatric orthopedic surgeons at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Despite his initial reluctance to become a surgeon, Ben now says he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“My dad is a strong and admirable person, and he creates a positive impact on everything that he does, and I want to recapture a piece of that,” Ben says.
Medicine runs in the family — Ben is a fourth-generation physician — but the interest in orthopedics began with David’s father-in-law, Dr. Jack Levine, who was chief of orthopedic surgery at Brookdale Hospital Center in Brooklyn, making Ben a third-generation orthopedist.
David says he loved visiting Jack’s practice and talking with him about his work, and when David was looking for a subspecialty, he knew he wanted to work with children.
“I like the challenge of having to be holistic,” he says. “If I have a 2-year-old who comes in limping, who is not articulate and I’m not getting much history from the parent either, you have to look at the whole child. Pediatric orthopedics, I would argue, is the only academic orthopedic specialty where you can still look at the whole patient.”
David and Ben have, to date, operated together more than 100 times. Before he began at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley, Ben was a pediatric orthopedist at a competing hospital, but that didn’t stop his father from scrubbing in to assist in complex cases.
“What stands out for me is, before I came to NewYork-Presbyterian I didn’t have colleagues with my dad’s experience,” Ben says. “My dad got attending privileges at my hospital and would scrub in with me, which was very cool. There was always a feeling of comfort and confidence to have him there helping out.”
The feeling is mutual. David says Ben shares the qualities of being “amazingly calm and competent” in the operating room. Now that they are at the same hospital, Ben will scrub in with his dad at least once a month, sometimes twice.
When they are together in the operating room, David and Ben even like the same background music.
“I listen to alternative rock and metal, like Metallica and Nine Inch Nails, and some classic stuff and Ben does the same,” David says. Asked how he ended up with similar taste in music, Ben answers, “I used to buy all his music for him when I was a resident.”
“He’s very modern,” Ben says of his dad. “He’s like that with everything. He evolves, he’s open to change. He’ll eat anything, except for brain. He went bungee jumping in New Zealand. He keeps up with the latest music, and he is way trendier than me from a fashion standpoint.”
Outside of the operating room, David and Ben are happy to consult each other on cases.
“I help him as much as he helps me,” Ben says, and his father agrees. David recalls a recent case involving a patella (kneecap) fracture, and he asked Ben to come in and take a look at the X-rays and give his opinion. David was with two other highly respected pediatric orthopedic surgeons — Dr. Joshua Hyman and Dr. Michael Vitale — and when Ben left the room, one turned to David and said, “You take advice from your son?”
“Yes, I do. He’s a very smart man,” David replied.
The desire in the Roye family to pursue careers in science and medicine didn’t stop with David and Ben. Among David and Carol’s six children, two are physicians, one is a veterinarian, one is an astrophysicist, one is an architect, and the youngest just finished a master’s program in videography. Among Ben’s three children, his daughter, the eldest, has ruled out medicine, but his two boys are open to the idea, meaning there could be a new generation of Roye orthopedic surgeons.
“It’s a little bit early,” David says of Ben’s children, “but I could see both of them pursuing orthopedic surgery — for sure.”
Dr. David Roye is chief of the pediatric orthopedic service at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and the St. Giles Professor of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Ben Roye is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.