You may not have heard of urology, but it’s a medical specialty that covers a variety of issues that significantly impact a person’s quality of life. In the heart of Alaska, Fairbanks Urology is drawing patients from all over the state to its world-class doctors and surgeons for innovative urologic healthcare.
A little known field that makes a big impact
“I certainly wouldn’t have thought as I went into medicine that I was going to end up in urology. I didn’t know about it, as most people don’t,” Dr. David Sharp, board certified urologist and urologic cancer surgeon at Fairbanks Urology says. In 2020, there were only 13,352 urologists in the United States compared to 27,550 pediatricians and 23,000 cardiologists.
Urology may be lesser-known, but it deals with the entire sexual and reproductive system including the kidneys, bladder and prostate. Common issues the urologists at Fairbanks Urology treat include kidney stones, benign prostatic hyperplasia (or enlarged prostate), erectile dysfunction, incontinence, UTIs, pelvic pain and urologic cancers including kidney cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer. Services such as vasectomies, bladder botox, and biopsies are performed in-office.
“Issues like kidney stones can cause some of the worst pain anyone can feel,” Urologist and founder of Fairbanks Urology, Dr. Tony Nimeh, says. Urinary leakage, an inability to urinate, having to rush to the bathroom to pee every half hour, not being able to get or keep an erection, and burning or pain while peeing are other common symptoms of urologic issues that have a negative impact on a person’s day-to-day quality of life.
Making a difference in people’s lives by relieving their symptoms and treating underlying root causes is what drives urologists like Dr. Sharp and Dr. Nimeh to do the work they do.
Finding a passion for urology
Raised in Texas, Dr. David Sharp arrived in Fairbanks through an unconventional path. “Not too many people have lived in both Fairbanks, Alaska and Manhattan,” he laughs. “Every place I’ve lived is different, but I certainly think Fairbanks is the most unique place.”
Dr. Sharp always liked math and science, and getting his undergraduate degree in engineering ended up being his springboard into medicine. At the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, he found his passion for urology.
“Urology really appealed to me in many respects,” Dr. Sharp explains. “We do a lot of neat surgeries from minimally invasive procedures to very complex reconstructive procedures. The breadth of urology and the variety within urology very much appealed to me. I thought the patients were very interesting – men and women, young and old – and there’s a lot of subspecialization and areas that you can explore within urology.”
Going on to specialize in urologic cancer, he spent three years in Manhattan at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center learning how to evaluate and perform surgery for these diseases. Urology cancer surgery and care usually involves working in a multidisciplinary fashion with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, and Dr. Sharp found his stride collaborating with both to get the best outcomes for his patients.
“Cancer initially appealed to me and was what got me into urology, so I did subspecialty training in cancer care. Cancers that we deal with are treatable and we can make a big difference in people’s lives,” he explains.
Before joining the Fairbanks team, he spent thirteen years as the Residency Director of Ohio State University’s Department of Urology, one of the largest institutions in the US. There he trained young doctors how to become urologists as he advanced the field of urology through extensive medical research.
Joining the medical staff at Fairbanks Urology
“I worked in residency training, education and research for the last thirteen years and was looking for a change. This opportunity came up on the other side of the world in Alaska and it appealed to me. I came up here and wasn’t expecting to actually take the job, but everything fell into place and I’ve loved it since I’ve been here,” Dr. Sharp says. For him, Fairbanks Urology and Alaska have both been a perfect fit.
“It’s a great state,” Dr. Sharp says, while acknowledging how different living in Alaska is from his upbringing in the southern continental United States. “I love being on the edge of the wilderness and being able to explore. It’s very unique in so many different respects from the weather to the people to the mountains to the rivers to the amount of daylight or not. All of it’s been pretty fascinating and I enjoy being part of it.”
Like the community in Fairbanks, the people he sees at Fairbanks Urology are both interesting and appreciative. “I like the variety of everything I see,” he explains. “I see a lot more variety here than I did in my previous practice where I focused mostly on cancer.” Treating a wide variety of urologic issues has been rewarding, and he appreciates being able to really take his time to work with patients and give them world-class care at the edge of the frontier.
“Our patients come from so far away. It’s not uncommon for people to fly a couple of hours to get to us. We’re one of only two urology practices for 500 miles in any direction. So it’s pretty amazing and unique for us to be able to manage that amount of geographical area,” Dr. Sharp says. “And at the end of a long day when you have a patient that thanks you, that’s what makes all the long hours and the long training worth it.”
Uniquely equipped to support a wide variety of issues
The team at Fairbanks Urology is uniquely equipped to support a wide variety of issues. With a team consisting of a urologist and urologic cancer surgeon, a urologist and prostate specialist, a nurse practitioner specializing in female urology, and a physician’s assistant specializing in men’s health, all supported by a team of knowledgeable nurses and medical assistants, there isn’t much Fairbanks Urology hasn’t seen and can’t offer their patients.
“We have such a great team here,” Dr. Sharp says. “We enjoy working together and have a good time, and I think our patients can see how we enjoy working together and taking care of folks on an individual basis.”
Working with urologic cancers
As a urologic cancer surgeon, Dr. Sharp spends much of his time focused on helping patients who have kidney cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and testicular cancer. Unfortunately, most of these cancers are far from uncommon. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021 in the United States about 76,080 new cases of kidney cancer; 248,530 new cases of prostate cancer; 83,730 new cases of bladder cancer; and 9,470 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed. As the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men in the United States, prostate cancer affects about one in nine men in their lifetime.
At Fairbanks Urology, Dr. Sharp and his colleagues use the latest innovations in the field of medicine to both screen for and treat prostate cancer. Using both the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examinations, they work to detect prostate cancer early before it spreads. Utilizing the latest technology in robotic surgeries, they perform robotic prostatectomies for prostate cancer management.
Using innovative procedures to improve patient outcomes
“Urology is really at the forefront of technological advancements in surgical care. Urologists have been one of the biggest proponents of using the surgical robot for treatment in surgery,” Dr. Sharp says.
Now used in most medical fields, urology has the greatest experience with this technology. “The robotic instrumentation is an amazing surgical tool that allows us to work through small incisions. It gives us some more precision and allows us to do the surgeries with a little more finesse than we could do with straight laparoscopy. That’s the biggest technological advance we’ve seen in surgery care over the last decade or two,” he continues.
Robotic surgeries weren’t common in Fairbanks before Fairbanks Urology opened its doors. Being able to bring that kind of quality, innovative care to the interior of Alaska was something that really drove Dr. Sharp to move to Fairbanks.
What’s next for Dr. Sharp and the field of urology
Dr. Sharp looks forward to the continued growth of the field of urology through new research and technologies. “Just like the surgical advances we have in cancer care, we see them happening in managing kidney stones, benign prostatic hyperplasia, erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, and other issues,” he says. “We’re going to continue to see less invasive surgical options, better medicines and more targeted care as we continue to learn more and understand every disease process a little bit more in detail.”
As Dr. Sharp and the other practitioners at Fairbanks Urology continue to work at the cutting edge of urology in the heart of the last Frontier state, they look forward to helping more patients from all over Alaska and the United States heal and enjoy healthier lives for years to come.