Evan Kokoska

Evan Kokoska

Evan Kokoska, M.D., is the Director of Pediatric Surgery at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital. Before med school, the 1989 alumnus was captain of the Rose‑Hulman tennis team and majored in chemical engineering.
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Rose-Hulman might be ranked as the nation's No. 1 undergraduate engineering college, but that doesn’t mean its graduates automatically go on to careers in engineering. 

Just ask Evan Kokoska, MD.

Now the Director of Pediatric Surgery at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Kokoska first earned a degree in chemical engineering from Rose-Hulman before attending medical school at Washington University in St. Louis.

Coming out of high school, Kokoska had offers from Johns Hopkins and Rose-Hulman, but ultimately chose Rose.

"That’s a decision I’ll never regret," he said. "I’m super happy I made it.”

Kokoska shares more below about the value of a Rose-Hulman education, how it helps him in his career as a surgeon, and advice for students considering a career in medicine.

What led you to choose Rose-Hulman?

I always wanted to go into medicine since I was a child. My dad was a chemical engineer and he ingrained in me that an engineering degree teaches you to think, and that can be translated to any career out there. That was what I was good at – logical thinking, problem-solving. I wasn’t good at rote memorization. That’s why I decided on engineering.

When you look at Rose compared to other schools, in terms of undergraduate education, it’s on par with anything out there. The education was personal. It was small groups. You had professors there to teach and who had work experience; not professors there to do research. From a strictly undergraduate education, it was fantastic in teaching that goal to problem-solve.

What's your favorite memory of Rose?

My best memory is the camaraderie. As a (chemical engineering major), there was a group of us who worked together on common goals. We didn't’ work against each other. We never had that pulling us down. I was in FIJI and played tennis. I tried to stay very busy outside of my studying. It forced me to be very efficient with my time, which is extremely important in medical school.

Evan Kokoska class headshot on left and '89 Rose-Hulman tennis team on right

Kokoska was a captain on the Rose-Hulman men's tennis team. (Rose-Hulman photo archives)

What do you like most and least about being a pediatric a surgeon?

When you look at the big picture of life, not to get philosophical, but a purpose-driven life really adds value to your life and adds happiness and true joy. For me, it’s the perfect job as far as something I can do that maintains mental stimulation; it keeps me physically moving around all day; and I help people and get fair pay for it. Really, it’s the best combination. Obviously, there are downsides and frustrations, and some real painful moments when children don’t do so well. When you have those difficult discussions with families, those beat you up pretty good. I try to maintain a fairly level emotional status. I try to avoid big swings of emotion.

Has your engineering degree helped you in other ways professionally?

I'm the head of the (National Surgical Quality Improvement Program Pediatric) which is a program with the American College of Surgeons that looks at data outcomes.

It’s a really objective way to look at various cases that we are doing and tell how we’re doing and where we need improvement. I really enjoy that component of my practice as well, because we never want to be satisfied with the status quo, and we always want to do better.

Beyond my clinical practice, there’s tons of ways in my job that I can continue to get better for both the program and as an individual. I’m always learning as a person – not only scientifically and from a medical standpoint, but also psychologically. How do you best interact with people? You almost need to be a mini-psychologist to do this type of work.

action shot of Eva Kokoska playing tennis on the left and Blue Key group photo on the right

A 1989 graduate, Kokoska was a member of the Blue Key National Honor Society, an organization dating back to 1924 that recognizes college students at institutions of higher education for balanced and all-around excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service. (Rose-Hulman photo archives)

Any advice you would give to a student considering medical school?

I would encourage students looking at undergrad schooling to not pick an undergrad school based on the graduate program. You can get into that grad program. Go to an undergrad school for their undergrad program.

For people going to med school, do something different. Explore your undergrad in other areas that you’re not going to explore for the rest of your life and the rest of your career. That makes you unique.

Evan Kokoska at glacier

Kokoska says he takes pride in having work-life balance. (Photo submitted by Evan Kokoska) 

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