It’s An Orthopaedic Thing

Do you know what an “orthopaedic thing” is? Here’s an example—the number 3. Almost everything in orthopaedics involves the number 3—triangulation, triple arthrodesis, three-point fixation, triplane fracture, triradiate cartilage, triple innominate osteotomy, and three planes in space forming a point. I tell my residents if they are asked a question to which they don’t know the answer, they should just say “3” because it’s an orthopaedic thing and they have a three-times better chance to be right than not.

Once, it was an orthopaedic thing that the specialty attracted former athletes, especially football players. It was an orthopaedic thing to be “strong as an ox and twice as smart.” But today, orthopaedic residencies are among the most sought-after positions of all specialties. Now it’s an orthopaedic thing to have only the cream of the medical crop becoming orthopaedists—the best and brightest physicians in all of medicine. Now, it’s an orthopaedic thing to be stronger than an internist and twice as smart!

In the past, it was an orthopaedic thing for the specialty to be the “groundhog” of medicine. It was less than glamorous, encompassing diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) of the bone, osteomyelitis, polio, trauma, and career-ending sports injuries. Willis Campbell was a huge man, a pediatrician who scared not only children but their mothers as well. In desperation, he went to Vienna, studied osteomyelitis and TB of the bone, and started in orthopaedics. Later, he helped to found the AAOS.

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