Dr. Ross Perko is a Husband, Dad, Doctor – In that Order

Dr. Ross Perko is a Husband, Dad, Doctor – In that Order

Dr. Ross Perko has been a pediatric oncologist at Essentia since 2013. Here, he treats young patients with all types of cancer.

During his career, Perko has had the distinct privilege of caring for many young patients. He has also guided children and their families as their disease progressed, helping them achieve a dignified death.

While his career is deeply meaningful and important to him, he has his priorities in the right order. Living in Duluth helps him achieve that.

“My goals are to be a good husband, dad, and doctor – in that order,” Perko said. “Every morning before work, I can go for a run with my wife, and take my kids to school. That wouldn’t be possible if we lived in most other places.

Rachel, Ross, Nora, Riley, and Lucas Perko enjoy some family time. Photo by JaneCane Photography /

“My commute is only 15 minutes. And then after work, I can also coach my kids’ basketball. These are all opportunities for me because we live in Duluth.”


Perko and his sister, Margaret, were born and raised in Eveleth. Their mother, Maxine, was a teacher, and their father, William, worked for a fuel oil company. Young Ross was athletic and enjoyed playing basketball.

He was inspired to pursue medicine – in part - after watching his parents survive several serious medical events. “I like to say our parents were patients, not doctors,” Perko explained.

“My dad had quadruple bypass surgery at age 39. And my mom had ovarian cancer when I was a senior in high school. She later developed breast cancer. Both of my parents are healthy today. I like to say that my parents are grandparents due to medicine.”

Another inspiration for the field of pediatric oncology was watching a young friend of the family battle liver cancer. “I would visit him in the hospital, and learned that he really loved Batman,” Perko said. “So, I arranged for Batman to visit the hospital to see him. He has since passed away, but I still have a photo of him on my desk.”

Interestingly, both Ross and Margaret were drawn to medicine. While Ross is a pediatric oncologist, Margaret practices family medicine – and both are at Essentia Health Duluth.

“Margaret and I saw the positive side of medicine very early on,” Perko noted. “We saw a lot of great people who helped our parents, and I think that drew us both towards an interest in medicine. And I firmly believe medicine is a calling.”


After graduating from Eveleth-Gilbert High School in 1998, Perko attended Mesabi Range Community College for two years. Later, he transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), where he ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in cell biology.

Choosing Duluth was a clear choice for Perko. “Coming to Duluth was like coming to the big city,” he noted with a chuckle. “And, my mom got her degree at UMD. Ultimately, I’m a local kid from northern Minnesota, and I liked the idea of being close to my family and my wife’s family.”

During college, he worked part-time retail jobs – at Foot Locker and Best Buy. “I still wear Air Jordans to work every day,” he said, explaining his unique choice of professional footwear.

Medical school would follow. Perko attended UMD for two years and the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities for the next two. After that, he did a residency at the Twin Cities campus and a fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

He was hired at Essentia in 2013 and was thrilled to return to Duluth.


As noted, Perko is a cancer doctor. In this role, he deals with life, death, and everything in between. It is a deeply rewarding profession for him.

“The most rewarding thing is when I see someone who has just gotten word that their child is sick, and I can come in and give them clarity,” he noted. “I always tell them we’ll get through it together.

“We have a massive team of people, including social workers, nurses, pharmacists, child life specialists, physical therapists, and so many more, here to help. And as the doctor, you get to be the quarterback of the team.”

Obviously, cancer is a very scary diagnosis to receive. But the odds are much better than they used to be – especially for kids.

“At this point, 80% or more of patients with childhood cancers survive,” Perko said. “Just this year, I’ve helped high schoolers cover their port sites or adjust their chemo schedules so they can go to prom. It’s cool to see kids I treated - who are now adults - play hockey, get married, or have children of their own.

“Taking care of children who die is also one of the most important things we do,” he added. “We surround the family with support, and try to make every day the best day possible.”

Experiencing the full circle of life has had a deep impact on Perko in every way. “Being in this role has definitely helped make me a better husband, dad, and son.”

In addition to his busy professional life, Perko serves on the Board of Directors for the Northern Lights Foundation. He is also a coach for youth basketball at Duluth East.


Perko and his wife Rachel (insert your clever “Ross and Rachel” jokes here) met while they were both working at a Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. She had a career as a pediatric nurse until the couple began having children.

Rachel and Ross Perko love their life in Duluth. Photo by JaneCane Photography

For now, she stays at home with the kids: Lucas (10), Nora (8), and Riley (4). The family also has a Goldendoodle puppy named Teddy.

Riley, Lucas, and Nora Perko enjoy time with the family dog – a Goldendoodle named Teddy. Photo submitted.

Ross and Rachel enjoy running and attending their kids’ school and sporting activities in their spare time. They live in the Woodland neighborhood, just outside Hartley Park.

Ross Perko and son Lucas celebrate a victory following a basketball tournament in 2023. Photo submitted.

“When we moved to Duluth, I said I either wanted to see the lake from our house, or be able to put on my running shoes and hit the trail right out our front door,” Perko said.

Smashing Goals

Perko is doing an extraordinary job achieving his goals of being a good husband, dad, and doctor. He remains deeply committed to all three roles but definitely has his priorities in order.

Looking ahead, he plans to continue striving to do his best in all areas. And he remains proud of all the hard work and dedication he’s put in to get where he is.

“I love sharing what I do with others,” he said. “And I just want to continue being present with my kids and building up the people around me. But, at this point, every dream I’ve ever dreamt, I’ve achieved.”


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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