Lehigh Valley doctor is a man on a mission
Dr. Peter Rovito has been going on one or two mission trips a year, since 2007, with the World Surgical Foundation based in Harrisburg.
“I once performed 25 thyroid surgeries in five days during a mission trip to the Philippines,” the Allentown doctor explained.
Originally from Shamokin, Rovito attended Temple University Medical School, Philadelphia, graduating in 1983.
“I say a prayer for Temple every night because it made me a doctor,” Rovito said.
After completing a five-year surgical residency with Lehigh Valley Hospital, Rovito opened a private practice and became an attending physician and a teacher at the hospital.
“These trips are a way for me to give back,” Rovito said. “I am able to take myself out of my comfort zone going to distant places that are limited in resources.
“I get to see how the medicine is, how the patients are, and to use my clinical acumen to diagnose and treat the patients needing it most,” Rovito said. “My very first mission with WSF was in the Philippines. I have been there six times.”
He has also been to Ethiopia, India, Honduras and recently Nigeria. The trips are one or two weeks long, and he pays his own expenses.
“Once people go on these trips, almost everyone wants to do it again,” Rovito said. “These missions are mutually beneficial for both the WSF team and the people we help.
“The cooperation between WSF and the host country is why the missions are able to succeed.
“Each region has a uniqueness to it,” Rovito said. “In Ethiopia, I performed a Whipple, which is a huge procedure on the pancreas.
“In India, I performed hernia procedures. In the Philippines, I often dealt with thyroids, and in Honduras, I performed mostly gall bladder surgeries.
A general surgeon, Rovito has done multiple procedures on every mission.
“The local doctors prescreen patients to determine what types of surgeries they need,” Rovito said. “Then, upon WSF’s arrival, we screen the patients to ensure those are the surgeries required.
“We then determine the surgery schedule based on what the procedures are and the urgency of the patient’s condition.”
The World Surgical Foundation provides most of the materials for the mission trips.
“I bring my own supplies as well, including mesh, sutures, staplers, instruments, gloves, etc., always carrying one 50-pound bag of medical and surgical supplies,” Rovito said. “I usually leave my leftover supplies for the local health facilities to use after the mission ends.”
Rovito took surgical residents with him on five mission trips.
“I worked out arrangements with LVHN to cover the residents’ expenses,” Rovito explained.
“I wanted them to experience doing surgery without all the bells and whistles available in the United States.
“The work they performed during a surgical mission had to be even better than that back home because there was no safety net.”
Rovito has many gifts and thank-you letters from people he assisted during his mission trips.
“They have two things on the Island of Romblon in the Philippines — poverty and marble,” Rovito said. “To thank the doctors, the patients carve things for them.
“I brought home a suitcase filled with marble carvings from my first mission.”
One is a unique marble carving of an eagle on which “Mr. WSF 2007,” is etched.
Others include a name plate, baseball and various other handcrafted items.
In September 2017, Rovito received the WSF’s Distinguished Service Award for his significant contributions to the foundation’s mission of performing surgeries for underserved patients in developing countries.
And in 2015, as part of Lehigh Valley Business Journal’s “Healthcare Heroes” recognition, Rovito was selected as the Lehigh Valley’s Physician of the Year, largely as a result of his mission work.
Rovito also received several teaching awards for his compassion and devotion toward educating residents.
“I became highly involved with Lehigh Valley Health Network’s surgical residency training program,” Rovito said.
“I helped teach surgeons there for 26 years. It was a good gig.
“Teaching is love. You are giving and letting someone else perform exactly what you love to do to help make them better,” Rovito said.
“It is very important and has to be done well.”
In Rovito’s office, letters of appreciation from residents he has trained and worked with cover his bookshelves.
“They are precious to me, and I have always kept them,” Rovito said.
“Many of the letters address me as ‘King’
“During my fifth year of residency, I was chief surgical resident.
“A nurse told me that chief was not a big enough title for me, saying ‘You are the king.’
“She took my badge and replaced ‘chief’ with a piece of tape that said ‘King’ on it. The title stuck ever since.”
Rovito and his wife have two sons.
“One of my sons is considering medical school, and has joined me on some mission trips,” Rovito said. “He has been to Honduras with me twice, and recently came to Nigeria.
“My son did mostly grunt work like handling supplies, locating patients, and keeping track of procedures, but was able to scrub, observe and assist during several procedures.”
Rovito said to become involved in mission trips, those who go need to understand the commitment they are making.
“It is not a vacation,” Rovito said. “You are going to places with limited resources, physical hardships and very sick patients.
“But if you are bored with regular routines and the hoops you have to jump through to practice medicine these days, try going on a mission.
“Do research on the organizations that are out there, such as WSF, which is a marvelous group that has been doing this for 20 years.”
Since 2015, Rovito has been an attending physician at Sacred Heart Hospital, Allentown, since 2015.
There, he shares his skills and expertise with family practice residents and physician assistant students.
Additional information about Rovito is located at DrPeterRovito.com,
Information on the World Surgical Foundation is available at worldsurgicalfoundation.org.