In his 58 years of life, Dr. Kenneth Warren Volker made a difference.
A big difference.
The co-creator of the McCarus-Volker FORNISEE SYSTEM, one of the most used surgical devices in women’s hysterectomy health care – in 2013, it was a winner in the prestigious Medical Design Awards — Volker used his own foundation to create an internationally renowned minimally invasive surgery fellowship.
On and on his resume goes — as a clinician, researcher, academician, and medical entrepreneur.
A Las Vegas medical professional who was comfortable lecturing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on advances in high-tech medical care, Volker was on the volunteer community faculty of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine and one of the first doctors to teach at the school when it opened in 2017. He also served as vice chairman of the medical school’s community engagement board.
His sudden death at the age of 58 in late November is tragic for his family, the medical community, and society at large. In examining just a few of his accomplishments — no doubt indicative of societal and medical contributions that were to come — there is no question that he helped transform the delivery of health care not only in the U.S., but also around the globe.
And he did it, in the words of Robert Frost, by often following the road “less traveled by.”
“Warren was an inspirational leader whose presence and generous spirit will be missed for many years to come,” said Dr. Marc Kahn, dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine. “He was a true leader in the medical community.”
Volker, who long lobbied in the state capitol for an allopathic medical school in Las Vegas, grew up in a family of seven children in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Even while he was at the University of North Dakota in his hometown, it was by no means a sure thing that he would become a physician.
“For a long time, I really thought I was going to follow my father into the automobile business,” Volker told “Making the Rounds” in 2019.
He decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in finance, but after much deliberation, also decided to pursue a second major in natural science, a subject he loved. His love for science would ultimately win out over his fascination with finance — he was awarded a National Science Foundation Scholarship so he could earn both a medical degree and Ph.D. in molecular biology — yet his business acumen would play a pivotal role in his medical career development.
His doctoral dissertation, which dealt with the molecular structure of genes leading to breast cancer, led him to pursue an OB/GYN residency in 1997 through University Medical Center and the UNR Medical School.
“Many people expected me to go to a well-known academic center, but I wanted to go somewhere where I’d be immersed in clinical care,” he said. At UMC, Volker said doctors did 500 deliveries a month. “It gave me the important experience I needed.”
He so impressed the Reno medical school that he was asked to join the faculty after finishing his residency, and he also directed research in the OB/GYN department.
In 2003, after leaving his faculty appointment, his business acumen began to show. One of the first surgeons in Nevada to be trained on the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic surgical tool, he began Women’s Specialty Care, a clinic where he was CEO and managing partner. That single clinic would morph into 16 and become known as WellHealth Quality Care. In 2017, DaVita Medical Group-Healthcare Partners acquired WellHealth and asked him to stay on as chief clinical officer. When Intermountain Healthcare acquired Healthcare Partners in 2020, he again was asked to stay in the same role.
While directing his specialty clinics, Volker also found time in 2006, when doctors were finding it difficult to obtain malpractice insurance, to found Premier Physicians Insurance Company. By 2017, after Premier became one of the largest malpractice insurance companies in Nevada, he sold the enterprise.
“My college background in finance really helped me navigate the complex financial world of healthcare,” said Volker, who formed a nonprofit foundation to fund endeavors that included Las Vegas Minimally Invasive Surgery, through which he created a fellowship that saw more than 60 doctors from around the country apply for the two fellowship spots. Though adept at running health care organizations, he remained clinically sound, focusing on minimally invasive and robotic gynecology and pelvic reconstruction surgery. Patients came to Las Vegas from throughout the country for his care.
A former chief of staff at Centennial Hills Hospital, Volker worked internationally, regularly going on missions to help the needy in Honduras. He was actively involved in One World Surgery, which brought much-needed surgical talent to the Dominican Republic and Honduras. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people and causing property damage estimated at $90 billion, he formed a 10-member health care team that flew to the island to work on pressing health care needs.
Gov. Steve Sisolak followed the team’s work and noted that Puerto Ricans were truly moved by the medical mission. “I’m grateful,” he said, “that we have health care providers in Nevada like Dr. Volker, whose compassion and expertise extend not only to our own communities in the state, but to families in need of care across the ocean. Dr. Volker’s medical mission...makes the UNLV School of Medicine and the entire state of Nevada proud.”
In his 2019 interview with “Making the Rounds,” Volker explained his approach to health care.
“When I’ve seen a need, I try to find a solution.”