These two words define Dr. Robert Burger’s career — and life. The bedrock of his calling is: to whom much is given, much is expected. In answer to that creed, he approaches life with a lens of purpose, gratitude, and dedication to the community. Qualities that he in turn inspires in those who come into his circle. He’s the type of person who makes his community better by learning from it and investing back into it.
Raised on Cincinnati’s West Side, these revered values were instilled in him as a child and during his time as a student at LaSalle High School. While there, he played football and received top marks that subsequently earned him an academic scholarship to his dream school, the University of Notre Dame. While he was recruited to play football at a number of Ivy League schools, he enrolled at Notre Dame in August of 1977 and joined the football team as an invited walk-on.
“I was a walk-on center. We had seven centers on the team, and I was seventh on the depth chart. I used to get a healthy serving of humility every day trying to block All-American (and future NFL defensive tackle for the Patriots, Browns and Raiders) Bob Golic*,” remembered Dr. Burger. “We had a phenomenal team, so loaded with talent, that as the season started, our third team quarterback was a guy named Joe Montana. As the season progressed, Joe became the starting QB, Notre Dame walloped USC after coming onto the field wearing green jerseys for the first time, and we beat an undefeated Texas team in the Cotton Bowl to win the 1977 National Championship.”
From Chemical Engineering to Medicine
Success at Notre Dame didn’t just happen on the football field for Dr. Burger. He also enjoyed achievements in the classroom as a chemical engineering major. Taking his academic feats into consideration, an uncle of Dr. Burger’s saw him on a different path and asked if he’d ever thought about going into medicine.
“I didn’t have an answer. I had never given it much thought, but once I did, I realized he might be on to something,” recalled Dr. Burger. “I like people. I like taking care of people. I thought it could be a path for me. I went and spoke to my advisor, and he helped me stay in chemical engineering while also fulfilling the prerequisites for medical school.”
Dr. Burger did not dismiss chemical engineering as a career path immediately, and he worked in a summer internship with Procter & Gamble in 1980, was offered a job by them, and considered this a most valuable learning experience. However, the desire to impact people more directly as a physician compelled him to pursue medicine as a career.
Dr. Burger enrolled in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1981, and after completing medical school, he began his Orthopaedic Surgery residency in 1985, also at UC.
Coming from a sports background, Dr. Burger was drawn to the field of Sports Medicine, and he considers himself privileged to spend a year as a Sports Medicine Fellow under the direction of Dr. Jack Hughston in Columbus, GA. Dr. Hughston was a pioneer in this emerging field, and he served as the original editor of The American Journal of Sports Medicine and the first president of The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.
“My mentor, Dr. Hughston, was a kind of wise grandfatherly-type guy. He was an engaging, intuitive, challenging guy, and I learned a lot from him,” said Dr. Burger. “Following his tutelage, I came back to Cincinnati in 1991 and worked with a group called Queen City Sports Medicine during my first three years in practice.”
Ironically, during Dr. Burger’s first year in practice, he began seeing patients at a newly opened medical office at the Cincinnati Sports Club, which is now a Beacon office. During that time, he met a young, talented chemical engineer, who at the time was working at P & G, named David Argo. While David was highly regarded by Procter & Gamble, Argo was also considering changing careers and pursuing medicine. The two shared a common bond and background, became friends, David spent time with Dr. Burger in the office and in surgery, and ultimately he changed careers himself and enrolled in medical school.
As they say, “The rest is history.” A generation later, Dr. Argo now works as an orthopaedic surgeon/sports medicine physician at Beacon, where he has been one of the key drivers in spearheading the organization’s growth and success over the past 20 years. “I’m delighted and most proud that Dr. Argo is now a trusted partner at Beacon. It’s very gratifying to watch someone evolve like that,” said Dr. Burger.
The Start of Something New: Beacon Orthopaedics
Dr. Burger left Queen City Sports Medicine in 1995 and opened his own practice in Orthopaedic Surgery/Sports Medicine, and he was blessed to hire a talented young woman named Nancy Hugentobler as his office manager –and more than 25 years later, Nancy still works with Dr. Burger as his administrative assistant. “Nancy has been an absolute pillar and a godsend, not only to me but to my patients as well, “ stated Dr. Burger.
Shortly after Dr. Burger opened his own practice, Dr. Tim Kremchek did the same, and the two frequently collaborated in complex surgical cases, team coverage, and sports medicine conferences. This provided the initial foundation for Beacon. As the two worked together more regularly, they began to meet, along with the other founding physicians, exploring the possibility of coming together as a new group.
This was both an exciting and unsettling time for the original founders of Beacon. They would meet to discuss how they might come together as a group. Would they be able to work together? What would it look like? The doctors met weekly, starting on the ground floor as they assumed the various essential tasks necessary to build a group practice. Along with Drs. Burger and Kremchek, Nancy Hugentobler, Jayne Walker, and Jetta Anderson played key roles in the formation of the group. They decided to call their new group “Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine,” and Dr. John Wolf became the first president in 1996. From there, the team kept building, piece by piece. They recruited talented doctors who were well trained, bright, willing to work hard, and had a similar patient care philosophy, along with skilled and committed administrators.
“The healthcare environment that spurred Beacon’s founding in the 1990s was evolving. The term that was becoming more prevalent was ‘capitated care.’ As we were getting feedback, people would say that they really liked what we were doing for patients, but we needed to be in a group, that we needed to be a bigger entity to manage care for larger patient populations,” Dr. Burger remembered. “We needed to balance our organizational structure while also responding to the anticipated and future needs of our patients, all while providing state of the art care that met or exceeded patient expectations. The concept of consolidating physical therapy, MRIs, and even an ambulatory surgery center in the same location began to provide real synergy and more integrated care.”
As Dr. Burger now reflects on Beacon’s beginning over 25 years ago, he is both proud and amazed by the organization’s growth. He believes that integral to Beacon’s success has been an unwavering commitment to patient care, dynamic creativity in responding to the health care needs of the community, and a persistent commitment as physicians to stick together through the challenges that inevitably come with a growing medical practice. Dr. Burger hopes to continue seeing Beacon’s evolution, including growth, without losing its foundation of providing high-quality care and doing what’s right for patients. The way to do that isn’t just by being content with the way Beacon did things yesterday. It’s constantly evaluating how things will be done tomorrow.
“I’ve worked as a physician for more than 30 years. I’m at a place in my career where while I am proud of our legacy, I am more interested in what Beacon will become over the next 20-30 years. I want Beacon to continue to thrive and still be vibrant and available,” said Dr. Burger. “The patients in our community will include me and my family, and I want people to feel like they’re treated like my family. I do for my patients what I do for my family.”
Everything Comes Full Circle
This is the point where Dr. Burger’s full circle really begins to crystallize. He and his wife, Felicia, have raised four boys together. They now range in age from 27 to 33. His youngest son Joe played football for The Ohio State University, was also a member of the 2014 National Championship team, and is currently in medical school at Ohio State. Dr. Burger’s oldest son, Bobby, played football at Notre Dame. Suggesting again that life comes full circle, Dr. Burger’s father had graduated from Xavier in 1960, and almost 50 years later, two of Dr. Burger’s sons,
Chris and John, both enrolled at Xavier and played college golf there. Dr. Burger has also served as the Medical Director and head team physician for Xavier athletics for more than 20 years. He’s now enjoying the blessing of five grandchildren — all age 4 or younger.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed by my entire family, and I am most proud that my son Joe at OSU is also on a path similar to mine. He played on a team that was good enough to win a National Championship, too. Not many people can say that. It gives us a rather unique bond —
from the football field to medical school.” Dr. Burger continued with a laugh, “Not our championship rings though. Mine looks like it came out of a bubble gum machine compared to his. Of course, I don’t treasure mine any less. It’s the accomplishment and memories it represents that matter.”
Besides having the support of family, professional colleagues, and mentors along the way, Dr. Burger has been blessed with a loyal staff, and several current Beacon employees started with him over 25 years ago, including Shelly Bingle, Sherri Roesel, and Bev Gavin, as well as Sarah Snyder, who has worked with him for 20 plus years as a physician assistant.
“I really am eternally grateful to all the people who work with me. I’m just blessed with a lot of really good people who take great care of patients. From my staff to partners like Dr. Argo, Dr. Robert Rolf (Dr. Burger’s nephew and who he helped with his college applications), and Dr. Steve Hamilton (who Dr. Burger first met when Steve was a 5th grader and a patient),” said Dr. Burger. “When you reflect on those kinds of experiences, you start to feel like an old man. In all seriousness, it is tremendously gratifying to witness the maturation and success of so many outstanding individuals at Beacon, and I hope that I have made a positive contribution to their careers and their lives. It has been a challenging but fun journey for me, and I am extremely proud as I witness so many good people flourish at Beacon.”
And to bring everything fully full circle, Dr. Burger imparts the following words, “Give back to get back. Help support people in the community. Because to whom much is given, much is expected.”
*Millennials may know Bob Golic equally as well (or better) as Mike from Saved by the Bell: The College Years.