Back to articles

Inspired by local physician, spine surgeon comes back to Mendocino County to fulfill life-long dream


Ten years ago, while still in his first year of medical school, Dr. Yoshihiro Katsuura came to Howard hospital on a whim. It was during those times spent in the area that he realized his calling and set in motion a dream and a promise to be back someday to serve this community.

Today, he is back fulfilling that dream as a spine surgeon joining Adventist Health Howard Memorial and he says it feels like home. “I grew up in the Bay Area, but I have always been committed to coming back to Mendocino County, because of my time spent here as a medical student.”

His path to Mendocino County has had many pitstops along the way, but Dr. Katsuura says, he was always focused on his destination. “While I was in medical school, I had a long-time friend whose mom was a nurse in the OR at Howard. His exact words were, ‘You should go and check out the hospital. It’s a neat little hospital and Dr. Bill Bowen works up there. He’s amazing.’ I was intrigued. So, I just showed up one day, Dr. Bowen put me to work and I really liked the area and the people, and so I kept coming back.”

For the next 10 years, he did just that. During every major holiday he spent his time off from medical school, working at Howard in the surgery department, volunteering and learning from Dr. Bowen as well as working in the Emergency department. “I lived with my friend’s mom Cynthia every summer and winter break, spending a few months each time. I got to know the area and the people really well. I remember everyone, especially the nurses who helped me. This one nurse, Amy, was awesome and showed me how to start IVs and a bunch of other things. Anything I wanted to learn she was enthusiastic to teach. I also remember the patients. I thought it was nice how the community depended on the hospital and this fostered such commitment from the people who worked there not only to take care of immediate problems, but also plan for the future and train the next generation”

While he never thought of going into Orthopedics, but always wanted to be a spine surgeon. Dr. Katsuura said the time spent with Dr. Bowen and at Howard inspired him to become an orthopaedic spine surgeon. “I always wanted to be a neurosurgeon. But seeing Dr. Bowen and the seeing the difference that he made for his patients and his passion for what he did convinced me to go into orthopedics and I’m glad I made the right choice. I think I realized that to adequately treat a spine patient, you need to understand the entire musculoskeletal system which is what you learn in orthopaedics. Pain overlaps quite a bit in the body, for example in the shoulder and the neck. You have to have clinical knowledge of both to make an accurate diagnosis.”

While spine surgery might be one of the more difficult surgical fields, Dr. Katsuura says he enjoys the challenge. “Spine surgery requires precision and there’s not a lot of room for error. That makes it more complicated than standard orthopedics -- it’s more than shoulders and knees, there’s more risk involved. I’m a details-oriented person and so I think It suits my personality. People come to me totally incapacitated and they can’t walk or they’re becoming paralyzed, and then to have become pain-free, walk again and live a normal life is incredibly satisfying.”

As a spine surgeon, Dr. Katsuura specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the spine for both adult and pediatric conditions. He believes in using surgery only when necessary and in maximizing the use of minimally invasive techniques.

Dr. Katsuura attended medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, graduating with honors. He then underwent an orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga – a Level 1 trauma center. Dr. Katsuura later pursued a fellowship in spine surgery at Hospital for Special Surgery and Weill Cornell Medical College. He always knew he would be back at Howard, and so tailored his training to what the community would likely need, focusing on trauma, oncology, pediatrics and degenerative spinal conditions.

Following his fellowship, Dr. Katsuura joined the spine surgery faculty at both Hospital for Special Surgery and Weill Cornell Medical College which was a great honor. He now serves as the medical director of spine surgery at Adventist Health Howard Memorial.

He could not have found a better place to do it. Having been back for a few months now, Dr. Katsuura says, the hospital is a little different but still the same as the one he fell in love with years ago. “It looks different from the old hospital and there are some new people. But the passion and culture are still the same. Everyone is pulling on the same rope, in the same direction. That’s very hard to find. I think people at Howard take great pride in what they do, and the patients can feel that.”

“We are excited to have Dr. Katsuura as part of our orthopedic team. The expertise he brings is much needed in our community and will ensure that our patients will never have to drive far for exceptional care. Having the convenience of not having to travel, but also to be taken cared of by people they know, and trust can make a big difference in health outcomes. Dr. Katsuura’s experience and dedication to rural healthcare is a perfect fit for our community. He will be a great addition to our team, and we are blessed that he has chosen our community to practice,” shares Judson Howe, president for Adventist Health in Mendocino County.

Dr. Katsuura is now seeing patients in Willits. To make an appointment, call 707-459-6115. Learn more about

Dr. Katsuura and conditions he treats.