Dr. Richard Cardosi: Watson Clinic

by Zoe Trout

Get to know September 2017’s CityMaker

Unlike his predecessors, our September 2017 CityMaker was reluctant at first to call Lakeland home. A city dweller from his youth, Dr. Richard Cardosi thought of Lakeland as “the place where they sell chickens on the way to Orlando.” However, when the Florida panhandle proved “too cold” for his wife, Rosemary, the pair packed up to move south, and professional opportunities brought them to Lakeland. It’s “the best thing we’ve done,” says Dr. Cardosi of that 2005 move and the community they’ve come to love.

“It’s been outstanding,” he says. “From a personal aspect, a family aspect, and a professional aspect, everything about it has been great. I’m just lucky to have made that choice.”

Dr. Richard Cardosi
Dr. Richard Cardosi

Loving Lakeland, Just The Way It Is

Like so many others, Dr. Cardosi names the “community feel” as his favorite part of our little city.

“It could be a small town,” he explains. “You know your neighbor. You trust your neighbor. But it has everything you could ask for in a big city, from culture to professional activities. There are not many towns where you drive through and at every median and stoplight, there are new flowers for every season. It’s just really nice.”

When asked about his hopes for the future of the city, Dr. Cardosi simply stated, “I don’t think they need to change a thing.”

The Pursuit of Passion

He brings this same practicality to his family life and career as a gynecologic oncologist at the Watson Clinic. His five children succeed academically, in athletics, and in the arts – all of them swimming competitively and playing the piano. His wife, Rosemary, is a part-time OB-GYN and full-time mom, enjoying the best of both worlds and allowing her husband the time to focus on his patients and succeed professionally. When the family gets a break from their busy schedules, they like to visit what Dr. Cardosi says is the one thing that Lakeland is missing: the water, heading to the beach whenever possible.

After finishing medical school in ‘94, Dr. Cardosi chose gynecologic oncology to marry his two passions: OB-GYN and general surgery. He went on to complete a residency and fellowship at USF and the Moffitt Cancer Center, allowing him to specialize in this field. As a gynecologic oncology physician, Dr. Cardosi gets to work with patients through every step of recovery, from surgery to chemotherapy. Through this process, Dr. Cardosi sees his patients monthly and sometimes even weekly, forming a strong bond and relationship with them in the process.

Love for People and Genuine Connection

Though he claims to be drawn to the field by his love of surgery, describing himself as a pragmatic “fix-it kind of guy, without any of that ‘touchy-feely stuff’,” Dr. Cardosi’s soft side comes through when he speaks about the relationships formed with his patients.

“I know these people,” he says. “I get to the point with many of my patients where I don’t need a chart when they come in. I know their husbands and I know their children and I know what’s going on with them. My job is taking care of people, and they become friends, in that respect. And that makes you work that much harder.”

A self-described ‘Type A,’ success-driven person, Dr. Cardosi’s objective is always a cure, always to “fix the problem.” However, he admits that, in the world of oncology, when a cancer patient comes in and he can fix it, that’s a “good day.” Despite the hardship, Dr. Cardosi remains determined to stay “glass half full,” always helping and supporting his patients to the absolute best of his ability, no matter how devastating their situation may be.

“Don’t misunderstand me, that sucks and that’s no fun,” he says, “but it’s rewarding to help them get through it and make the most of their diagnosis, whether it be to live and enjoy every day or to give them an extra four years or five years or eight years. With this added time, a mom could get to see her 15-year-old graduate high school or her 25-year-old get married and have a grandbaby….Even when we’re not successful in the way that we all desire, we’re still making a difference.”

This perspective has also allowed Dr. Cardosi to see his own life in a different light, appreciating the importance of his family and health and feeling humbled by the gratitude of his patients.

Dr. Richard Cardosi

“That’s what makes me get up and come back when it’s been a bad day. My patients are the best in the world,” he says. “When you have to prepare someone that it’s going to be horrible and you feel like you’ve done nothing for them and they tell you ‘thank you,’ it’s incredibly humbling.”

Though Dr. Cardosi jokes that “not many people will call me humble,” his humility, empathy, and commitment to his patients continue to shine through in his actions, both in and out of the workplace. He and his staff are committed to making him available to all patients whenever they need him, for as long as they need him, even when he has no appointment availability and has to be double and triple booked.

“My patients will tell you I’m often two or three hours behind,” he says. “But, that patient we work into the schedule doesn’t really care what the rest of my schedule is like, she cares about getting seen. That may mean an hour-long appointment in a 15 minutes spot, so therefore I am two hours behind, but the attitude in my office is that people would rather wait a little bit today than wait several weeks to be seen.”

Be a human being. Do your best. Care about people.

While his patients may complain about the wait, they also remember the time he saw them the very next day after they called or the time he spent two hours with them and their family, and they understand.

When Dr. Cardosi wanted to extend this commitment to his patients outside of the office, and into his personal life, he began running marathons in solidarity with them.

“If I’m going to ask my patients to go through surgery, to go through chemotherapy, the least I can do is get in shape and go run a marathon to be supportive of their needs and raise awareness for their illness,” he explains.

However, once he began doing so, he realized that this effort was benefitting himself more than anyone, helping him to lose weight and maintain a healthier lifestyle. For Dr. Cardosi, these benefits truly drove home the point that “when you give back to your community, it will give back to you.”

Dr. Cardosi urges his peers and neighbors to join him in his dedication to giving back to his community, even supporting organizations he may not participate in, but that contribute to the quality of life in Lakeland.

When it comes to a real-time and financial commitment, though, Dr. Cardosi’s passions remain within the medical field. In addition to being a large benefactor of the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Dr. Cardosi is the President of the Watson Clinic Foundation, an organization working to “improve health awareness and the quality of medical care” in the community. The Foundation sponsors special programs and initiatives, from providing electronic defibrillators for the Achievement Academy to gifting VISTE with a car to assist with transportation needs for their elderly clientele. The Foundation’s initiatives impact lives across the state.

In a message of advice for future doctors, Dr. Cardosi reminds them to never forget that every patient is someone’s mother, sister, grandmother…

“You need to be the best. You need to be an expert in your area” he says. “But don’t let that get in the way of being a human being and continuing to care.”

Despite his self-described hard exterior, Dr. Cardosi’s words and action seem to revolve around one solid message: Be a human being. Do your best. Care about people. Give back. — a message all of us should take to heart.

Lakeland’s greatest resource is the citizens who champion community initiatives and who ultimately inspire others to Love Lakeland. They are passionate about Lakeland, they seek to improve the quality of life for all of our residents, and their daily actions and attitudes reflect their love for the community. Their focus is often outward, toward the world, rather than inward, and, as a result, every rock is hidden, every tree is planted, and every kindness is extended, inspiring others to be a little better and to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.