Dr. Ritrosky retires as Lee County’s longest practicing physician
Icon. Tireless advocate. Compassionate doctor.
Those are the words colleagues and patients use to describe Dr. John Ritrosky, Jr., a Fort Myers pediatrician, who is hanging up his stethoscope after 56 years of caring for Southwest Florida’s children.
At age 86, he is retiring as the longest-practicing physician in Lee County and the only physician with 56 years of continuous service on the Lee Health medical staff.
“WOW – it’s been a long time. When I came to Fort Myers in 1967, there were only four pediatricians in Lee County and only 77 doctors of any kind,” he said recently from his office at Physicians’ Primary Care of Southwest Florida. Today, the Lee County Medical Society has 2,296 physicians and 53 pediatricians and pediatric specialists.
During his half-century of service to Lee County, he started the Child Protection Team to provide care for physically abused children. The organization is now known as the Child Advocacy Center. A few years later, he became medical director of the local Children’s Medical Services team providing care for physically and mentally handicapped children. It was a role he held for 32 years until the State of Florida assumed responsibility for the team in 2019.
Children with cleft lips and palates also have a friend in Dr. Ritrosky. He launched the Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Anomalies Program and wrote the first rules and regulations for the advisory council.
Along the way, he has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Florida Medical Association and the Lee County Medical Society.
It’s a career that almost didn’t happen.
He was born and raised by his Ukrainian parents in Hudson, New York, a farming community where his uncle was a veterinarian. At the urging of his uncle, he applied to Cornell University, Department of Agriculture, and was accepted.
“We spent a half-day in a muddy field one day helping a cow with a prolapsed uterus. My uncle turned to me and said ‘you will be able to practice more medicine if you become a physician instead of a veterinarian,’” Dr. Ritrosky said.
Dr. Ritrosky changed his major to biochemistry and went on to State University of New York at Syracuse to obtain his medical degree.
“If it hadn’t been for my uncle, I probably never would have gone to college,” Dr. Ritrosky says now.
After pediatric residency and two years in the Air Force at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, opportunity knocked in Fort Myers, where a four-physician group recently lost one of its pediatricians in a car accident.
“They needed a pediatrician right away and my time in the Air Force was just coming to an end. I saw the outdoor life and fishing in Fort Myers and figured this was a great spot for me,” he says now.
As the medical practice grew, Dr. Ritrosky became one of the founding partners of Physicians’ Primary Care of Southwest Florida in 1996. One of his partners was Dr. Larry Antonucci, now CEO of Lee Health.
“I had the honor of working closely with Dr. Ritrosky in the mid-90s when creating Physicians’ Primary Care. We joined forces with other OB/GYN, family medicine and pediatric practices to become one large group caring for infants, children and families.
“I have always admired Dr. Ritrosky’s collegiality, commitment to building relationships with colleagues, patients and families and dedication to compassionate care. Dr. Ritrosky, you are truly an icon in pediatric healthcare, and we are lucky to have had you serving and caring for our community,” Dr. Antonucci said.
Dr. Mary Yankaskas, former managing physician of Physicians’ Primary Care of SWF, said Dr. Ritrosky always focused on the best possible care of patients and their families.
“As a pediatric leader, he has contributed significantly to the ongoing expectation of excellent pediatric healthcare in Lee County. He has touched the lives of an untold number of children and adults which will never be surpassed. As a community, we are indebted to his many years of faithful service,” Dr. Yankaskas said.
That dedication to care has resulted in an estimated 300,000 patient visits during the past 56 years, including many multi-generational families, such as Betsy White, her daughter FrenZella White and grandson Omari White-Hines.
Betsy recalled how Dr. Ritrosky stepped in after one of her children received a third-degree burn on her hand in an accident. Child Protective Services was called, but Dr. Ritrosky convinced authorities that it was indeed an accident. He also arranged for the child to have skin graft surgery performed by his son, Dr. John D. Ritrosky, a local plastic surgeon.
“So when my baby girl had her first child and my first grandchild, I knew I wanted Dr. Ritrosky to be the first to oversee his care,” White said. “Dr. Ritrosky is the sweetest doctor I’ve come into contact with when it comes to kids.”
White’s daughter FrenZella agrees.
“Dr. Ritrosky made me feel safe and heard about having my first child Omari. He always made sure my son and I felt comfortable, he would make jokes and would always shake our hands each visit, including my son. Dr. Ritrosky would take his time explaining what was going on with my son in a way a new parent would understand,” FrenZella said.
Medicine definitely runs in the Ritrosky family. In addition to his son John being a local plastic surgeon, his other son Steven is an anesthesiologist with Lee Health. Daughter Susan Beth Hill is an internal medicine physician in Orlando.
What does Dr. Ritrosky plan to do in retirement?
“Walk the beach, go fishing and re-landscape my Sanibel home that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian,” he says. What he will miss most is “being a significant force in the lives of our parents and children. I was blessed by influential people throughout my life to have this career. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”