Dr. Russell Woo (right) consults with Dr. Michale Sofer, Kapiolani pediatric anesthesiologist.

Valuing Comprehensive Keiki Care


Dr. Russell Woo is a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon who was instrumental in Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children becoming the first and only medical center in Hawaii to achieve a prestigious national distinction for excellence in pediatric surgery.

Just a few months ago, Kapiolani became one of only about 50 hospitals across the country to earn Level 1 Children’s Surgery Verification from the American College of Surgeons.

In this article, Woo elaborates further on his role and the significance of the medical center’s verification.

What do you do as the medical director for pediatric surgery?

My role is to facilitate teams and coordinate programs to provide the best comprehensive care for kids in Hawaii before, during and after surgery. This means working with primary care physicians and other specialists to ensure patients and their families are as prepared as possible – medically and mentally.

Then it’s working with the nurses, hospital-based doctors, therapists and other team members to make sure we have all the resources our patients need for the quickest and best possible recovery.

It’s also supporting a skilled team of pediatric surgeons ensuring that they have the specialized resources and equipment that they need to provide state-of the-art surgical care.

More broadly, our program works with community outreach programs to educate people on injury prevention and managing chronic illnesses to help them avoid needing surgery.

Lastly, I work with the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine to train the next generation of physicians and surgeons.

What treatments are the patients typically seeking?

As a children’s surgery center, Kapiolani provides a range of surgical services for families across the state and the Pacific region. This can range from correcting hernias and removing tonsils, to caring for sports and trauma-related injuries, to treating premature newborns with congenital defects, as well as caring for pediatric cancer patients. We perform procedures across the range of pediatric specialties including ophthalmology, urology, neurosurgery and more.

Why did you decide to specialize in pediatric surgery?

I love children, and the idea of being able to save an entire lifetime was very compelling. I’m a trained adult surgeon and found a lot of satisfaction in helping those patients. But when you treat a newborn who may not survive a day without your help, then have the opportunity to see that child grow to become an adult and have a family, it is an honor.

How does pediatric surgery differ from general surgery for adults?

The conditions are often different. A big part of what we do is correct congenital disorders in newborns who need the procedure immediately to survive. The medical considerations are also different for children than adults.

Finally, operating on a patient who weighs just ounces requires specialized training, tools and techniques. That is why the medical staff at Kapiolani is specially trained for pediatrics.

Then, there is the personal touch you need with children. How you take care of an infant is different than how you care for a preschooler, an adolescent or young adult. So, our pediatric teams learn how to connect with kids at every age and how to communicate with their families because when you treat a child, in many ways you’re treating the entire family.

What does it take to earn a Level 1 Children’s Surgery Verification?

The ACS Children’s Verification Program evaluates hospitals on a comprehensive list of more than 140 requirements and considerations. These include the number of pediatric specialty surgeons on staff, specific pediatric training for medical teams and how long it takes to respond to any patient request.

But what is just as important is that medical centers must show consistent, effective processes to assess and improve patient outcomes and experiences.

This verification was a big commitment that involved the entire team at Kapiolani – from physicians to nurses to everyone involved in patient care. We are very proud of this distinction.

What does this national distinction mean for patients and their families?

Hawaii is 3,000 miles away from the next children’s hospital, and not every patient or family is physically or financially able to travel that far. Level 1 Children’s Surgery Verification demonstrates that Kapiolani provides world-class care that is as high quality and state-of-the-art as mainland facilities. It also comes with an expectation that we will build upon that.

What keeps you inspired?

My patients. The families and children we see at Kapiolani have so much strength, resilience and hope.

Also, the doctors and everyone who works here are passionate about caring for kids. I see it not only in our medical care, but also in the way they hold patients who are sad, the way they talk with them or stop for a moment to give them a sticker or toy.

These are people who love children and our Kapiolani team wants to do the best we can for Hawaii’s kids.



This article was first featured in the Jan. 25, 2023, issue of MidWeek as a part of the "Dr. in the House" series. See the full publication here.



Published on: January 25, 2023