St. Louis Physician George Hruza Sees Teaching as the Reward
Author: Lucy Schultze
Since shifting from full-time academic medicine into private practice more than 15 years ago, dermatologist George J. Hruza, MD, lectures around the world and retains a part-time teaching role.
But his mission to give back by training others has been best expressed in the dermatological surgery fellowships he’s offered to young physicians – one each year, over 21 years.
“Working with fellows is a much more rewarding way to teach,” said Hruza, a clinical professor in the Department of Dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
“You become a mentor, and the interaction is much more intimate in a day-to-day setting for a whole year,” he said, adding that the relationship has often yielded opportunities to add new approaches and procedures to his practice.
“I find it’s a two-way street,” he said. “I may do something the same way for 10 or 15 years, and then a new person comes in who is very interested in learning and asks, ‘Why do you do it that way?’ If the answer is, ‘Because that’s how I’ve always done it,’ they may come up with a different perspective. Often, they’ve taught me new ways of doing things.
“By yourself, you can get in a rut. But having all these fellows has helped to keep me sharp.”
Of course, he said, enjoying that kind of relationship with a fellow in training calls for careful selection on the front end.
“It does depend on the quality of the fellow, so hopefully, you choose well,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate. The overwhelming majority of them, we worked really well together and it made for a great year.”
For Hruza, pursuing a balance between private practice and academic medicine has provided an opportunity to broaden his own reach in helping others.
“As one person, I can help some patients,” he said. “But if I can teach a bunch of other people to do the things I do, a lot more people can be helped. To me, that’s always been important.”
Hruza spent 11 years on the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine, where he led the dermatologic surgery section as part of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery; the Department of Surgery, Division of Plastic/Reconstructive Surgery; and the Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology.
Hruza’s area of specialty is in dermatologic surgery for skin cancer, particularly the Mohs micrographic surgery. His private practice, Laser & Dermatologic Surgery Center Inc., is based in Chesterfield and offers a full range of dermatological services, including laser and cosmetic procedures.
For the past four years, the practice has been housed in a new building on Chesterfield Parkway East, where Hruza’s practice shares facilities and an accredited surgery center with another dermatology group. While he is able to perform most procedures in-house, Hruza remains on active staff of Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital.
Hruza holds a medical degree from New York University School of Medicine and completed his internship at New York Hospital through Cornell University. He spent his dermatology residency at New York University Medical Center, followed by a clinical and research fellowship in laser surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital with Harvard University School of Medicine in Boston.
He ventured into the Midwest in 1987 for a fellowship in Mohs surgery at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, then settled in St. Louis. In 1998, he earned an MBA from Washington University.
Hruza’s path into medicine was laid by his parents, both of whom were physicians. He was born in Prague, Czech Republic, behind the Iron Curtain during the Communist era and escaped with his family at age 10.
“I was so young, they didn’t even tell me what we were doing,” he recalled. “They just said, ‘We’re visiting your uncle in Yugoslavia for Christmas. Pack your favorite toys and your stamp collection.’”
Hruza’s father, a research scientist and pathologist, was already in the United States as part of an exchange program. To guarantee his return, the Communist government was holding his family’s passports. Hruza’s mother, a pediatrician who became a psychiatrist in the United States, along with his uncle led Hruza and his older sister on a circuitous route through several eastern European countries.
Ultimately, a guard who couldn’t read the Czech language mistook the papers they had for permanent visas, allowing them passage to Sweden. The family spent four years there before finally gaining permission to rejoin Hruza’s father in the United States. They settled in New York.
Today, Hruza takes full advantage of the freedom of travel he now enjoys. His family recently trekked to Iceland, and he and wife Carrie, an optometrist, make an annual tradition of helicopter skiing in British Columbia.
Their blended family includes four children: Stephanie, 21; Paul, 19; Hope, 19; and Rose, 15.
Helping to bring the siblings together after the Hruzas wed six years ago was Carrie’s success in winning the Mrs. Missouri America pageant and in ranking as a finalist in Mrs. America.
“The kids encouraged her to sign up for the pageants,” Hruza said. “To get their seats to support her, they sat all day in front of the doors to be at the head of the line. They loved the whole experience.”
Hruza’s activities outside his practice include a dedication to organized medicine. He is a past president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society and is treasurer of the Missouri State Medical Association. He serves as president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and travels to Washington at least three times a year to advocate on behalf of physicians.
“We’re under huge pressure from regulators, legislators and insurance companies as far as how we take care of our patients,” he said.
“It’s really had a detrimental effect on the doctor-patient relationship. My way of trying to deal with that is being very involved in organized medicine to try to make a difference as far as preserving, protecting and enhancing the doctor-patient relationship. I try to do my part to hopefully help.”
Laser and Dermatologic Surgery Center