In His Element
Dr. Kevin McVary, happy at home
Written by Rebecca Budde • Photography by Jason Johnson
While many in central Illinois quickly grew tired of this past winter’s continually falling snow, Kevin McVary, MD, found it created the perfect venue for one of his passions. His second winter back in his hometown of Springfield saw near-record snowfall as he settled into his role at SIU School of Medicine as professor and chair of SIU’s Division of Urology.
A chip off the old block, as many say, Dr. McVary’s upbringing was greatly influenced by his father, Patrick McVary, MD. Patrick was one of the founders of SIU School of Medicine’s Division of Urology and an avid outdoorsman. “Dad spent his younger years hunting off his horse at his family’s ranch in Montana,” his son says. Patrick’s nine children, especially the three boys, always shared a piece of outdoor life with their father.
“The first time I ever went skiing was with my family in about fourth grade,” Dr. McVary says. “I didn’t want to go because I was shooting for the perfect attendance award in school.” A studious child, Dr. McVary shares, “My dad always joked that I was the only one who ever found the library.” Despite a near-miss for the perfect attendance award at school that year, young Kevin found regular attendance outdoors to be to his liking.
Duck hunting quickly became his passion. “We went as many weekends as possible, and it was never enough.” As the seventh of the nine children and the youngest of the boys, Dr. McVary spent quality time with his father in the duck blind when his brothers left Springfield to attend college. “This is where we’d have our most personal conversations,” he says.
The McVary boys remain tight and continue their outdoor adventures. “My brother Mike and I talked every day while I lived in Chicago, and I came back every weekend during hunting season,” Dr. McVary says. “I was always wedded to the hunting culture and living up north made hunting so much more difficult.” His children and wife talk about Springfield like it was their hometown; however, traveling back and forth on the weekends wasn’t the same as living there.
The history of the McVary family in Springfield runs deep. “My ancestors moved here in 1805,” Dr. McVary says. Kevin’s mother, Ruth, was a Springfield native. After marrying and living in Montana for a few years, Ruth, Patrick and the first five of their children moved to Springfield in 1949.
Dr. Patrick McVary opened an independent urology practice on Seventh Street and South Grand Avenue. He helped start SIU’s urology division, holding a part-time faculty position as clinical associate professor of surgery from 1974-79 and later served as a volunteer faculty member. He practiced urology in Springfield for 38 years before retiring in 1987. He died in 2005.
Just as his father influenced his passion for the outdoors, Dr. Kevin McVary is continuing his father’s legacy at SIU. Prior to coming to SIU, he was professor of urology at Northwestern University Medical School, director of the Center for Sexual Health at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, director of the Prostate Disease Minimally Invasive Program and the andrology fellowship program director.
Dr. McVary says he knew in grade school that he wanted to be a doctor. “In medical school I wanted to be a family practice physician, but Northwestern didn’t have a family practice department or mentor,” he says. “I kept saying, ‘I’m not going into urology.’ Then I did a urology rotation, and it was fantastic. The residents were fun and happy. I thought, ‘Why am I fighting this?’ ”
Though he and his father were close, Dr. McVary says his father had more of a hands-off approach to inspiring his son’s career path. “My dad knew not to push it or he’d spoil the broth, so to speak,” he says. “He did it perfectly right. Choosing urology was more about Jack Grayhack than my dad.” Jack Grayhack, MD, was Northwestern’s chair of urology from 1963-89 and had a profound influence on Dr. McVary personally and professionally.
Dr. McVary remained at Northwestern for his urology residency, and as he neared the end of the two years, he began thinking of joining his father in Springfield at SIU School of Medicine. “Jack encouraged me to take time to explore other possibilities,” Dr. McVary says. With that advice, he embarked on a research career in the labs at Northwestern. “After two years enjoying researching in the labs, I knew I wasn’t ready to go back to Springfield.” Twenty-three years later, he felt the time was right to take on a new leadership position. He returned to Springfield as professor and chair of SIU’s division of urology.
Dr. McVary returned to Springfield with an arsenal of resources to strengthen SIU’s Division of Urology.
The andrology fellowship at Northwestern Memorial Hospital began in 2003 under Dr. McVary’s leadership. Now at SIU since 2013, Dr. McVary is co-director of the andrology fellowship with his colleague, Tobias Köhler, MD. Dr. Köhler joined SIU in 2008 after completing the andrology fellowship at Northwestern. “We’re like a dynamic duo,” Dr. McVary jokes regarding his collaboration with Dr. Köhler.
The division has seen an increase in fellowship trained faculty, including two urologic oncologists. “There’s a good esprit de corps here,” says Dr. McVary. “Our residents and faculty are top flight. There’s nothing better than being around smart people.”
Because he’s always enjoyed his research endeavors, Dr. McVary brought his lab coat with him to SIU. “I’m very happy that my research career has been so collaborative with so many different specialties,” he says. “My clinical focus and research overlap; it’s really cool.” Some of his most recent research includes using vapor therapy for the treatment of enlarged prostate (BPH) and cancer. He also has a passion for studying the mortality rates for bladder, prostate and kidney cancers and addressing the access to urologic care in downstate rural areas.
“I think SIU urology is a great brand, and I want to spread that brand,” Dr. McVary says of his aspirations for himself and the division. “Our medical students and residents are sought after in this country, and I want to continue to help contribute to excellence in education.” “The specialty of urology is ripe with people who are sick but get better; I think that’s a real strength of urology,” Dr. McVary says. “When I look at the relationships I have with my patients, they are long-term relationships.”
Dr. McVary has witnessed first-hand how these relationships continue over time. “Every clinic I have here, I see someone who was a patient or family member of a patient of my dad,” Dr. McVary says. “It’s awesome. I thank every guy who tells me his story.” And his patients feel he’s awesome as well – some make the drive from Chicago just to continue to receive care from him.
“I think my father would be really happy seeing me back in Springfield,” Dr. McVary says. “Being back in Springfield is a slam dunk for me.”