Michael F. Schafer, MD, receives OREF’s 2008 William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award
“Being selected for this Award means more to me than I can put into words,” said Michael F. Schafer, MD, recipient of the 2008 Orthopaedic Research and Education and Foundation (OREF) William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award. “Bill Tipton and I were interns together and became very close friends. Many years ago, we talked about how we could make a contribution to medicine.”
Each man went on to do just that, and during the 2008 Annual Meeting, those contributions were recognized.
According to William J. Robb III, MD, chair of the Tipton Leadership Award committee, Dr. Tipton would indeed be pleased to know that the award established to honor his career was presented to one of his closest friends. He added, “Dr. Schafer has made significant contributions to both orthopaedic education and career development. He has been a consistent advocate for diversity in the specialty and worked closely with Dr. Tipton to establish the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program.”
Respected by colleagues, patients
Dr. Schafer has demonstrated his strong leadership abilities as the Ryerson Professor and longest-serving chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
James A. Hill, MD, president of the J. Robert Gladden Society and a colleague of Dr. Schafer at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, speaks highly of both his leadership skills and his ability to include all people. “Because of the culture created by Dr. Schafer, the whole department is sensitive to creating opportunities for underrepresented minorities and females,” said Dr. Hill. “He has followed through on his personal commitment without any fanfare or pursuit of accolades.”
As a team physician for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears at various times during his career, Dr. Schafer gets high praise from the athletes he has treated. Former Chicago Cubs player Scott Sanderson considers him almost a father figure. “It all goes to the trust and the respect I have for him, and the care he showed to me and my family, on and off the athletic field.”
Another former Cubs player, Shawon Dunston, echoes those sentiments. “Dr. Schafer cares about each of his patients. He treats us as friends and patients first…I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
It may be that Dr. Schafer’s personal experiences gave him the ability to empathize so well with patients. At the age of 10, he was infected with the life-threatening bulbar form of polio. “A number of my doctors were orthopaedic surgeons. They helped me, and I knew then what I was going to do with my life,” he said.
Dr. Schafer distinguished himself early in his career. He was named Wesley Hospital’s Intern of the Year in 1968 and Resident of the Year during his first year of orthopaedics training at Evanston Hospital. He pursued a fellowship in spine surgery and scoliosis. “I know that goes right back to the heart of my experiences in the polio ward,” he said. “Although I didn’t know what scoliosis was back then, I saw the kids in body casts and wanted to help them.”
A perennial volunteer
“To me, it is not enough just to practice medicine and orthopaedic surgery; it is important to give back. I think it’s a charge that all orthopaedists should understand. We have been blessed with abilities—both mentally and physically—to master a specialty. We owe it to our patients and others to make sure we make a contribution,” said Dr. Schafer.
In addition to being widely published, he has volunteered countless hours to AAOS and to his specialty society, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). He chaired the AOSSM ethics committee as it confronted the problems associated with the practice of purchasing the right to serve as team physician. The AOSSM developed and published a white paper on the practice, which was eventually outlawed by the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
He has advised the AAOS Board of Councilors on this same topic, which led to proposed revisions for the Standards of Professionalism on Providing Musculoskeletal Services to Patients. Currently, he serves on the Academy’s Communication Cabinet and the Editorial Board of AAOS Now. He is actively involved in the Academy’s Leadership Fellows Program—serving as a mentor every year the program has been in existence.
Dr. Schafer believes his greatest accomplishment is his marriage of 42 years to his wife, Eileen. They have five children and 12 grandchildren with one “on the way.”
Annie Hayashi is the senior science writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org