Jennifer Linehan, MD: An Innovative Robotic Surgeon with Old-Fashioned Values

December 21, 2015
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Dr. Jennifer Linehan’s career path was set one day during her second year of medical school at the University of Arizona when she attended a lecture by an attending physician who was a pioneer in robotic surgery.

“It was the very beginning of robotics in medicine when all we had was a voice controlled robotic arm that held a camera,” she recalls. “But I thought, ‘That is what I want to do—that kind of technology.’”

The next day she showed up at the surgeon’s office with her resumé in hand. “I told him, ‘I want to do what you do. I’m just a second-year medical student, but I want to learn this.’”

Her enthusiasm and initiative paid off. She was soon working in his research lab before classes and on weekends, learning the art of robotic surgery. Dr. Linehan recently joined the staff of the John Wayne Cancer Institute, following another of her mentors, Timothy G. Wilson, MD, from City of Hope. Her interest in robotic surgery led her into the field of urology.

“I got interested in urology because urology tends to be one of the specialties which uses the robot the most,” says Dr. Linehan, who performed a two-year fellowship under Dr. Wilson’s tutelage at City of Hope. Dr. Wilson is one of the world’s foremost experts on robotic prostate cancer surgery and serves as chief of urology and director of the urologic oncology research program at the Institute.

“I was lucky to train and work under Dr. Wilson," she says. "I am honored to join the John Wayne Cancer Institute. I think it has an incredible commitment to helping patients.”

In her new position at the Institute and Saint John’s Health Center, Dr. Linehan will pursue her areas of interest including treatment of cancers of the kidney, prostate, testicles, bladder and retroperitoneum. She is also exploring better ways to treat kidney stones that help patients find relief faster. She is among the few surgeons who remove large kidney stones (two centimeters and larger) using robotic surgery. “The robot can definitely be used for taking out larger stones which in many cases minimizes patient discomfort in comparison with passing stones,” she says.

Dr. Linehan, who is board-certified in urology, also treats urge incontinence (overactive bladder) and pelvic pain with a broad arsenal of treatments that are personalized to her patients.

She takes the idea of personalized care to the extreme. The native of Ohio is known to make house calls when necessary and often gives her cell phone number to patients.

“Just knowing that if there is a problem they can reach out and get you is really comforting to patients,” she says. “It’s very frustrating when you’re hurting or sore or sick and are not able to find someone who can help you or answer your questions. As physicians, we’ve become separated from our patients. In years past, people used to call their physician all of the time. They were part of the community. As a society, we have lost that connection.”

In her spare time, Dr. Linehan finds time to travel (Italy is her favorite destination), rescue dogs and teach religious education to children from economically disadvantaged areas in Los Angeles. But it’s not surprising that anyone who gives her cell phone to patients, clearly loves her job.

“I think the satisfaction I get from my job is knowing I’m helping people and making their lives a little better.”

For more information about supporting urologic oncology research, please contact Michael Avila in the Office of Development at 310-829-8351 or michael.avila@stjohns.org