Reflecting on the past, looking toward the future
Trauma. Infection. Amputation. Reconstruction. For half a century, the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons (SOMOS) has served the orthopaedists whose expertise in these topics can mean the difference between life and death for wounded military personnel and civilians. Throughout its history, SOMOS has encouraged research and provided a forum for its members to share the latest information on the treatment of combat injuries and many other orthopaedic injuries and conditions.
The society, with 1,100 active and inactive members, supports a broad range of educational opportunities and cutting-edge symposia on topics related to military orthopaedic surgery. Next month, SOMOS marks its golden anniversary, making this a fitting time to look back at its history and the important contributions SOMOS has made to orthopaedics.
The founding of SOMOS
The society was founded during the 1958 AAOS Annual Meeting and held its first organized meeting in 1963. A decade later, the society’s board of directors officially defined its mission as being “to provide a forum for the interchange of medical knowledge as it relates to the practice of orthopaedic surgery in the military.”
SOMOS holds one general scientific meeting each year during which research papers are presented in a collegial setting. SOMOS members must be, or must have been, orthopaedic surgeons or resident orthopaedic surgeons in the Armed Forces, including active duty, reserve, retired, and honorably discharged members of all services, as well as allied members of foreign military service.
In 1963, SOMOS began holding annual meetings on a rotating basis on U.S. Army posts, Navy bases, and Air Force bases, usually at the installation’s Officers’ Club. Just as they do today, those first meetings provided opportunities for members to meet in an informal setting to establish or renew acquaintances, share recent experiences, and solve common problems unique to the practice of military orthopaedic surgery.
Recent annual meetings have been held near military installations across the United States, attracting as many as 500 attendees. Nationally-recognized leaders in orthopaedics present papers and posters and lead courses on a wide range of topics, including sports medicine, adult reconstruction, hand surgery, pediatrics, upper and lower extremity trauma, spine, infection, and musculoskeletal tumors.
“The SOMOS annual meeting is the premier scientific meeting for military orthopaedic surgeons,” says SOMOS President CDR Daniel Valaik, MD, MC, U.S. Navy. “It offers an opportunity for attendees to enhance their knowledge, earn continuing medical education credits, and rekindle relationships with past and present military orthopaedic colleagues.”
At the meetings, SOMOS presents awards for best resident paper, best original paper with military relevance, and best original poster presentation with military relevance. Recently, SOMOS created an orthopaedic leadership award in honor of COL Brian Allgood, MD, who was killed in combat in Iraq in 2007.
Collaboration leads to innovation
Retired COL John Feagin Jr., MD, a SOMOS member since 1963, says that the society has long understood the importance of partnering with other orthopaedic groups to help advance care. SOMOS is represented on both the AAOS Board of Orthopaedic Specialty Societies and the AAOS Board of Councilors.
“In the early 1970s, orthopaedic surgeons at U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force Academies realized that the members of SOMOS had considerable experience to offer other orthopaedic organizations, particularly in the area of sports medicine,” recalls Dr. Feagin. “We also realized that unless the information was packaged in a way that was acceptable at the highest scientific level, it would not be accepted or published. This realization and the attendant effort have led to SOMOS receiving at least three O’Donoghue Awards from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and a host of other national awards and recognition.”
SOMOS has teamed with the AAOS and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) to sponsor a symposium on military orthopaedic surgery at each AAOS Annual Meeting since 2001. It has also worked with the AAOS and OTA on the Extremity War Injuries (EWI) symposia, which have defined current knowledge of the management of extremity war injuries for the National Institutes of Health, Congress, the Department of Defense (DOD), orthopaedic surgeons, researchers, industry, and other relevant government agencies.
“The cooperation between the military and the AAOS has been strengthened by the current military conflict,” says AAOS President Tony Rankin, MD, the first military-trained orthopaedic surgeon to be elected president of the AAOS. “This has been made particularly evident by the EWI symposia and our efforts to establish and fund orthopaedic extremity trauma research through the DOD budget. Our military colleagues are doing a tremendous job caring for the injured troops. The mutual cooperation between the military, the AAOS, and the OTA is elevating the level of care available.”
Dr. Feagin sums up the importance of SOMOS by noting that “military medicine is unique and offers experiences that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This is why SOMOS exists and has been so productive.”
LTC Daniel W. White, MD, MC, U.S. Army, is the SOMOS first vice president. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org