Q&A With Ron Turker

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Q&A With Ron Turker 


I had the pleasure of connecting with former surgeon and amateur comic, Ron Turker, whose debut novel The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious not only entertains readers, but also pulls back the curtain on the U.S. healthcare system. 

Q: Ron, would you like to give a brief description of The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious? Was the story inspired by your own career as a surgeon?


A: Yes and thank you Bianca for including me on Book Notions.


TWJ is, indeed, a love letter to my career in Medicine, written with a very sharp pen. 

It answers the often-asked question: What happens when you drop an agnostic Jewish surgeon in a century-old Catholic hospital where the liberal doctor meets dogma and fights for his patients while wrestling with the Resurrection—of his adolescent libido?


The seed, roots, and trunk of this story were inspired and molded by the arc of my career. But the canopy, the overstory, grew organically from there. The practice of Medicine is a crucible. And as a surgeon, you learn that even the most mundane case can turn on a dime. Not every case is a win. But, like Dr. Marty Fischer, our chronically conflicted protagonist, I learned that simply showing up, listening, and taking the whole journey with my patients was often what was really needed.

Q: Was the transition from being surgeon and comic to being an author an easy one? 


A: There was never a definable jump from one stage to the next. I was always writing. As a kid I wrote long (and in my head) pithy letters to my brothers and friends. I wrote to entertain, and to quiet the adolescent demons. 


The recipe for a good standup set is nine-parts writing and one-part delivery. The same holds true for being a doctor.


If you walk into the room and you don’t know your stuff, if you haven’t practiced, a great delivery will still fall flat. A mic isn’t a scalpel, but both can cut deeply, and that’s where the care and skill come in. Both arenas hold risk.


And comedy shaped my doctor chops. I learned to read the room. On stage, if one joke wasn’t working, if my delivery was off, I’d pivot. There’s little difference between a comedy club room of fifty drunk people or an exam room of three frightened folks. Either way, they might not hear every word. If my message fell flat, I could make the shift.


Regarding the novel, the long-form narrative was daunting, but I was surrounded by a supportive writing community in both Portland and Colorado who shared their love of the craft and helped me find my voice.

Q: How long did it take for you to write The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious?


A: I started, but never finished two other books early in my career. I was too busy with my surgical practice and academic writing to finish anything. I penned the occasional op ed or essay. But in late 2017, after I had finished my second round of treatment for recurrent prostate cancer, I decided it was time to “write the book.”


I’d set the alarm for 4:00 AM, but quickly learned I didn’t need it. The story began to take on a life of its own, and my brain was buzzing by 3:30.


Another local author and excellent teacher named Samantha Waltz did the heavy lifting of taking my writing from the level of an earnest high schooler to professional author. She was just the right mix of disciplinarian and cheerleader. A font of compliment sandwiches. “Great job, but…”


Draft gave way to draft until, in the spring of 2023, a fully formed creature was ready to meet the reading world.

Q: As I was reading your bio, I noticed that you practiced medicine from New Mexico to the Pacific Northwest, from Colombia to the Middle East, and recently Ukraine. It must have been amazing while at the same time dangerous when it comes to Colombia, The Middle East, and Ukraine. What were those experiences like?


A: Hmm. Long story.


An off-the-cuff, obviously rhetorical question from a woman who worked for Healing the Children back in 1992, turned out to be the spark that ignited my lifelong passion for overseas work.


“It’s so expensive for us to fly the Colombian kids here to Chicago for care,” she’d said, standing in our clinic, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a group of doctors and nurses to Colombia and treat the kids in their own country?”


My friend, Peter, another young pediatric surgeon, shrugged and said, “Sure,” and went right back to his work, thinking that ended the conversation. 


A month later, that do-gooder woman showed up in clinic with eight plane tickets in her hand. “We leave next month.”


We were young, energetic, and just naive enough to board the plane. Colombia in the ‘90s was an uneasy place. To sand the edges of the edginess, we’d joke about the bulletproof cars, armed escorts, and roadside checkpoints. Worse, we’d sneak out at night to experience the Colombian nightlife for ourselves. Suffice it to say we survived, but when our Colombian hosts found out about our nightly forays, they had what could best be described as relatively minor heart attacks.


We fell in love with the people, the country, and the work. Thirty-two years later, Colombia is a much more tranquil place and like a second home.


By 1993 I’d moved to New Mexico and fell squarely into its tri-cultural milieu. New York public schools weren’t heavy on the cultural norms of the Navajo nation, but I quickly learned it’s impolite to point, and that I had a deep hunger to learn about lives lived differently from my own. So, in addition to the Colombia group, I joined other groups and ventured to Ecuador and Peru.


When the Arab spring came to a jolting halt in Syria, and civil war refugees flooded into neighboring countries, I somehow convinced the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) that I’d be a great fit. (To this day I believe I’m the lone Jew on their roster—nickname, “Token.”)


When war broke out in Ukraine, my ancestral home, it was SAMS, with their robust experience in conflict zones who reached out to offer aid. In April of 2022, I got the call on a Monday and was on a plane to Poland by Friday. Time enough to gather equipment and tell my wife I’d meet her in Amsterdam in May, as she would soon be on her way to Africa with a different NGO.


All in all, my time overseas and my time working with the Indian Health Service have been some of the most educational parts of my career and my life. My cultural teachers, one and all, are those who I’ve met and served. I could not be more grateful.

Q: What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious?


A: U.S. healthcare is in peril. Grave peril. If this impossibly complicated system of ours were a patient, I’d diagnose it with advanced cancer. Cancer tends to die from within. What’s left is a glossy shell and our insatiable healthcare beast, outstripped the decades of free-flowing dollars, has turned on itself.


TWJ, at turns, lighthearted and funny is also a poignant wake-up message. We are bombarded with essays, nonfiction books, and op eds filling our eyes and ears with this message. Some of them mine. But the information gets lost in the noise. 


So, reading the room, I pivoted. I wrote TWJ as a piece of fiction. Wrapped in a humorous capsule, will perhaps, make the message easier to swallow. And, unlike the warning shots being fired over our heads, I’m hoping TWJ, aimed at the heart and funny bone, will give people the space needed to pause and then engage.


From Teddy Roosevelt on, eight administrations have tried and failed to truly reform our system. Time for a change from the bottom up, one little hero at a time. Perhaps Marty Fischer, a fictional Dr. Quixote, will help spark the flame.

Q: I read that you are currently writing your second book. Is it a sequel to The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious or a different story entirely?


A: Ah. The next book is not the one I had in mind when I finished TWJ. I had arced out a different story with different characters, but the persistent response from readers, wanting to hear more about Marty and his fictional buddy Ralph, provided enough push to shelve that story and write the prequel to TWJ.


We meet Marty and Ralph as young surgical trainees at the famous and dying Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s Southside. Caring for Chicago’s poorest, she’s a financial dinosaur whose longstanding reliance on the largess of the “haves” to care for the “have-nots” has run its course. Cut off from her funds, it’s there, in her dying days, that she births one last class of caring and committed doctors.

Order The Wandering Jew of St. Salacious in print or eBook now from Amazon at


For more information on Ron Turker, please visit his website at


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*Audiobook due out in Summer 2024!