The culture of orthopaedics is already conducive to volunteerism, stated Robert N. Hensinger, MD, (1992-1993). “Orthopedic surgeons have a lot to give, and I think they’re really good at it,” he explained. “We have a greater impact than our numbers would suggest, and we should continue to try to foster that in young orthopaedists.”


Published 3/1/2008
Felasfa M. Wodajo, MD; Stuart Hirsch, MD

Lessons from history: Past presidents have their say

Advice for young orthopaedic surgeons

Members of the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program (LFP)—which encourages leadership skills and mentors young orthopaedic surgeons—were charged with interviewing all the Academy’s living past presidents. This article is the second in a four-part series drawn from these varied and frank interviews.

Our conversations with the Academy’s past presidents demonstrated that our organization has a rich legacy of volunteerism and commitment to developing its own future leadership. When offering advice for young orthopaedic surgeons just starting out in the Academy, the need to create a culture of dedication, focus, and service was a recurring theme.

“Get involved!” advised Bernard A. Rineberg, MD, (1993-1994). “The more you see, the more you want to do, and the more you do, the more you can achieve.”

Robert D. D’Ambrosia, MD, (1999-2000), echoed that sentiment. “You want to contribute something long-lasting to the profession,” he advised. “AAOS involvement allows you the opportunity to affect the direction of orthopaedics.”

Douglas W. Jackson, MD, (1997-1998), offered this counsel: “Be the best orthopaedic surgeon and person you can be, and do not overlook giving back. The Academy is one organization that our profession needs; it will assist you throughout your career in ways that you cannot anticipate early on.”

Robert N. Hensinger, MD

Listen and learn
Like their predecessors, today’s Academy leaders need to be effective communicators, demonstrate integrity, and remain “in sync” with the membership.

James D. Heckman, MD, (1998-1999), stressed the importance of being “open minded,” “inclusive,” and listening to other people’s ideas. “One can be autocratic in a small business,” he cautioned, “but this will not work in a large organization.”

For Clement B. Sledge, MD, (1985-1986), involvement in the Academy provided him with recognition among his peers, and taught him to observe the behavior of others.

Clement B.
Sledge, MD

Mentors matter
There is no single definitive path to AAOS leadership positions, and no single moment when an inner “light bulb” turns on. But having a mentor, making a commitment, being willing to accept responsibility, and being able to create successful teams in times of chaos help to pave the road.

“Many people—including me—were encouraged to get involved in the Academy early on in their careers,” recalled Roby C. Thompson Jr., MD, (1986-1987). “I was flattered, and I was also not about to turn down my chief. Had Dr. [Frank E.] Stinchfield (1962-1963) not encouraged me that way, I don’t think I would have become involved with the Academy at the same level.”

“One can only make changes by getting involved,” Kenneth E. De Haven, MD, (1996-1997) advised. “There are multiple pathways to becoming active within the Academy. These include education, research, local involvement, state society involvement leading to participation in the Board of Councilors, and subspecialty society involvement leading to participation in the Board of Specialty Societies.”

The culture of orthopaedics is already conducive to volunteerism, stated Robert N. Hensinger, MD, (1992-1993). “Orthopedic surgeons have a lot to give, and I think they’re really good at it,” he explained. “We have a greater impact than our numbers would suggest, and we should continue to try to foster that in young orthopaedists.”
“While I served on the Board of Directors, just seeing the variety of members and the different points of view was valuable,” he said. “It was very educational for me and helped me to understand other people’s perspectives. That helped me to become a better leader.”

According to John J. Gartland, MD, (1979-1980), the main reason young members should get involved is that “the AAOS is your only unified political voice.”

“When we can speak as one voice, we open up opportunities that otherwise would not exist—particularly in Washington D.C.,” Dr. Gartland said. Obtaining grant money is a prime example of what speaking with a unified voice in Washington can accomplish, he added.

“Show up”
Leadership in a nonprofit organization is more about service and responsibilities than perks, the past presidents agreed.

Dr. Heckman’s advice for success in a volunteer organization included “show up and do what you’re asked to do.” He expressed amazement at how often people “don’t show up—even for conference calls.”

If your initial volunteer assignment isn’t as fulfilling as you might like, “show up anyway,” he said. “If you’re there, the next job will come.”

But James H. Herndon, MD, (2003-2004), cautioned, “Don't do too much. Do one thing well instead of three or four things poorly.”

Educate, inspire, battle
But wait, there’s more! Leaders get to educate, inspire and motivate, create and implement strategies, develop courage, and battle guardians of the status quo.

“An orthopaedic surgeon’s contribution does not have to be within the AAOS,” Dr. Hensinger noted, but could be within the doctor’s hospital, state society, or local community.

“When I was traveling around the country as part of the presidential line, I met a lot of great people who were leaders in their communities, or leaders in their hospitals or in their states,” Dr. Hensinger recalled. “They were really having an impact on medicine and the delivery of health care in grassroots, fundamental ways. I think orthopaedists should be proud of that.”

Richard F. Kyle, MD, (2006-2007) said simply, “The AAOS exists to advance patient care.” Dr. Kyle urged young surgeons to “get involved in aspects of the AAOS that are important to you personally and that will help you to advance patient care.”

The sentiments of the past presidents were nicely summarized by Augusto Sarmiento, MD, (1991-1992). “Get involved!” he said. “Be honest! The mission of the Academy is to serve the profession, champion the interests of patients, and advance the highest quality musculoskeletal health. Supporting this mission and advancing it is why you should become involved.”

AAOS past presidents may not be entirely objective when assessing the value of contributing to the organization, but their advice to young surgeons was clearly heartfelt and sincere. Together, this group carries some of the highest aspirations of our profession. The principles of leadership they espouse remain relevant today and will serve us well in our future endeavors.

Felasfa M. Wodajo, MD, is a member of the 2006-2007 class of the Leadership Fellows Program.

Stuart Hirsch, MD, has served as a mentor with the Leadership Fellows Program since it was established in 2001.