In his off hours, surgeon swaps scrubs for a badge
After wrapping up a long day at the office or the operating room, many orthopaedic surgeons head home to their family, friends, or hobbies. When Fernando A. Ravessoud, MD, is through for the day, he dons a uniform for the Long Beach, Calif., Police Department.
During the last 12 years, Dr. Ravessoud has covered a variety of duties as a law enforcement officer. Currently, he holds the rank of sergeant, working as a reservist in the Commercial Enforcement division, which covers the second busiest seaport in the United States.
Like many children, Dr. Ravessoud grew up wanting to be either a police officer or a fire fighter. As a medical student at the University of California–Los Angeles, he had the opportunity to try combining medicine with fire fighting under a program that allowed him to spend several days working in a fire department paramedic unit. It didn’t quite live up to his expectations.
“It was kind of boring,” he laughs. “Most of the time we spent cleaning the vehicles, cleaning the station, making our beds, watching television, and exercising. You’d spend all that time in the station and then you’d get a call. Of course, when we got a call, it was great. We’d jump in a rig, drive to the scene, and do first aid, transport, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, whatever was needed. ”
When the assignment ended, Dr. Ravessoud put his public safety career on hold and continued his medical studies and orthopaedic residency. It wasn’t until 1996 that a door would open again, when the California Police Olympics came to Long Beach, where he had begun practicing.
“My wife, who’s a nurse, and I volunteered to provide medical oversight for the games,” Dr. Ravessoud explains.
Another orthopaedist, Seymour L. Alban, MD, a reserve officer with the Long Beach Police Department, had formed the “Doc Squad”—a group of volunteer physicians who assisted local police departments. When the games were over, Dr. Alban convinced Dr. Ravessoud to join the group, leading him to take part in an abbreviated version of the Police Academy.
“That was my first taste of the reserve program,” says Dr. Ravessoud. “It was very brief, and you couldn’t do very much with that training. You were restricted to working special events, parades, fundraisers, and similar activities. You couldn’t work patrol or take any real enforcement action.”
A higher level
In 1998, Dr. Ravessoud elected to return to the police academy to take a higher-level training course: the Full Basic Peace Officer Standards and Training class, which took him almost a year to complete.
“After I graduated from the Academy, I went into the field training program, which is similar to a medical internship. The training takes a long time, but it’s a potentially dangerous occupation, and what makes officers safe is the training that they receive.”
As a reserve officer, Dr. Ravessoud averages about 1,000 hours of police work per year, or about 20 hours per week. To other physicians who can’t imagine how he could balance a part-time job commitment with working as a surgeon and raising a family, he explains that he is fortunate enough to have several partners in his practice who like to take the trauma calls. “And I don’t play golf,” he laughs.
Recognizing that in some ways, orthopaedic surgery is worlds apart from police work, Dr. Ravessoud points out that, in other ways, his dual roles are simply two aspects of the same coin. Police officers must deal with “the other side” of what physicians see in a trauma situation.
“As a physician responding to a trauma call, I have seen the patient who arrives in the emergency department with an open fracture and the smell of alcohol on the blood,” he says. “As a police officer, I see the other side, at the accident scene—where we try to reconstruct the accident, fill out the report, and get the medical information.”
Field work leads to commendations
His medical background has enabled Dr. Ravessoud to assist other officers in the field.
“I remember one case in which a gang unit had stopped a teenager,” he says. “He was wearing a splint on his right upper extremity, and they were trying to identify him. He was acting odd, so they asked me if I could stop by and look at his arm. It was obvious that the splint wasn’t very well-applied, so I removed it, revealing relatively fresh needle tracks in his arm. He was using the makeshift splint to hide his intravenous drug use. Once the other officers had that little bit of
information, and once I told them that the tracks were roughly 24 hours old or less, the teen started talking. They were able to find out his name. He did have a warrant, so he was taken into custody.”
As a police officer, Dr. Ravessoud has received numerous commendations. The two he holds in highest regard are the Distinguished Service Award from the California Reserve Peace Officers Association, which he received in 2006, and the Meritorious Class C award of the Long Beach Police Department, presented to him in 2007. The latter award is made even more notable by the fact that it is only rarely given to reserve officers.
While remaining primarily an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Ravessoud enjoys his second role, and he encourages other orthopaedic surgeons to consider taking on some type of volunteer work. If nothing else, he sees the police training he gained as an end in itself, although it still falls short of orthopaedic surgery in at least one major area.
“It’s really fun training,” he says. “A lot of exercise, a lot of running around—some being yelled at. But when the trainers try to produce stress…well, it’s hard to stress orthopaedic surgeons, because we deal with that every time we’re in surgery. The kind of stress that they try to produce at a police academy program—by making you exercise, or yelling, or having you run into the locker room to change your clothes and then run and change back to see if you’ll get upset—doesn’t happen. They can’t duplicate the typical stress that an orthopaedic surgeon experiences.”
Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at email@example.com
For more information about Dr. Ravessoud, see “Profiles in Diversity,” April 2002 AAOS Bulletin, online at www.aaosnow.org