Some may know Henry J. Mankin, MD, as the recipient of the 2004 AAOS Diversity Award, or as the author of several hundred research papers and books such as his recent Pathophysiology of Orthopaedic Diseases. With an active career that spans more than five decades and continues to go strong, Dr. Mankin’s experience reflects the development of orthopaedic surgery as a profession.
“When I attended medical school, we really taught each other,” Dr. Mankin begins. “Our faculty occasionally taught us, but their major function in that setting was to take care of patients, and they really didn’t have any full-time faculty at Pitt. So we worked and we taught each other—we used to study together and we cared for each other. It was a very pleasant kind of life.
“It was a very different setting from today’s medical schools. We were trained to do a good job taking care of people, but we weren’t given much of an opportunity to find out very much about disease.
“When we finished, most of my colleagues stayed in western Pennsylvania as primary care doctors. I escaped to Chicago to do my residency in internal medicine.”
Babies or bones
Dr. Mankin’s interest in orthopaedics stems from his days as a physician in the U.S. Navy. “During my residency at the University of Chicago in 1955,” he explains, “I received a message from the U.S. Navy to join their organization as a physician, or be drafted into the Korean War. So I enlisted and served two years at a naval ammunition dump in Nevada.
“We didn’t have any television; we didn’t have any radio, and the people at the station—the Marines and Navy personnel—didn’t have very much to do. As the physician, I had to do two things: deliver babies, and take care of fractures when [the recruits] would beat each other up. I discovered that I really liked fracture work much better than obstetrics,” he laughs. “So I applied for a residency in orthopaedics.”
Dr. Mankin took his orthopaedic residency at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City, where he spent six months working directly with Henry L. Jaffe, MD, chief of pathology. Dr. Jaffe would become a mentor, friend, and long-term influence on Dr. Mankin’s life.
“He was a spectacular teacher, collector, and a great scientist in terms of the study of orthopaedic diseases,” says Dr. Mankin of his colleague. “I got to know him quite well during my three years of residency. He taught me to believe in truth, science, and competent skill in determining disease. He also taught me that teaching is a crucial part of life. I came back six years later, as chief of orthopaedics, and he was still there. We communicated almost every day. We liked each other very much, and when he died, he willed his collection to me.”
On to Boston
In 1972, after six years at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, Dr. Mankin was given the opportunity to become orthopaedist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard. One of his colleagues later described the situation there as an “entrenched group.”
“They were content with what they had,” Dr. Mankin chuckles, “a caretaking system that was very good, and a happy circumstance for a bunch of guys who had known each other and worked together for many years. My arrival with four guys whom they’d never met before from an institution in Harlem was a little stunning. I think they spent a little while, at least, trying to figure out how best to get rid of me if possible. But it became apparent that I was here to stay, and many of them ultimately became very involved in what we did, becoming very good friends.”
Today, after a career that stretches back to the mid-1950s, Dr. Mankin could be forgiven for wanting to take things easy. “I only work 60 hours a week now, so I’ve slowed down a little bit,” he laughs. “I work in my laboratory; I maintain my computerized system for 18,000 tumor cases that we treated over the years; I write papers—up to 619 I think—and right now I’m very busy going through the Jaffe collection and digitizing it so that at some point we can make it into an education and research facility for anybody who wants it in orthopaedics or radiology or pathology.
“I’m also teaching a lot. I teach anybody who wants to listen to me. I just got back from Harvard undergraduate school; I teach at Boston University and at Brown. I just got back from giving a lecture in Ohio.
“My wife is a research librarian at the hospital here. She and I have breakfast together every morning, and then she goes to work and I go to work. She comes home at 11 a.m., and I come home at 5 p.m. I’m keeping out of trouble.”
An educator and champion for diversity
No discussion of Dr. Mankin’s career would be complete without mentioning his outreach to women and minorities, expanding the diversity of medicine and orthopaedics. When he arrived in Boston, the student body was relatively homogenous, but over the years, through the efforts of Dr. Mankin and his colleagues, Harvard has developed a reputation as one of the more diverse programs in the United States.
“I believe that people should be judged not on what they are or who they are, but on what they know and what they do,” explains Dr. Mankin. “I’ve thought that for my whole lifetime. For [Harvard], that was a change. They really had a very narrow view of who should be an orthopaedic resident or who should be on the staff and so on, and we changed that. I had a lot of help. There were other people on the faculty who agreed with me, and we worked hard at it.”
Dr. Mankin credits his views on diversity to his environment growing up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community. “My father was in the clothing business in Pittsburgh, and we weren’t critical of people based on who they were,” he says. “We were only critical of them based on what they said or what they did. That was the way my family was, and that was the way my friends were.”
With all he has accomplished, Dr. Mankin still sees himself first and foremost as a teacher. “I worked very hard at education,” he says. “I spent my life trying to become an educator, at the same time recognizing that without the opportunity to be involved in clinical work or, to some extent, science, I probably would not be a well-rounded educator. So I had to do all three.
“When I was guest speaker at Brown University’s graduation, I told the students that it is of little consequence to them to know that I’m Jewish. That has very little importance in their lives—except it does [have importance] because Jews do not believe in heaven and hell. They believe that life ends when life ends, unless you have some way to maintain the capacity to exist.
“If you’re a parent, your immortality is your children. If you’re a teacher, your immortality is your students. You invest heavily in student care for that reason. Somewhere, somebody is teaching a student something that was learned from me. That’s my joy in life. That’s a great joy for a Jewish boy.”
Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org