Volunteer leader “gets the difficult jobs done”
Not only has Blair C. Filler, MD—this year’s winner of the William W. Tipton Jr., MD, Leadership Award—run 53 marathons, he demonstrates the same determination, unwavering tenacity, and dedication in every facet of his professional life and many volunteer contributions.
Blair C. Filler, MD
“Dr. Filler is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the difficult jobs done,” said his colleague Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, AAOS medical director.
Guided by a powerful principle
Early in Dr. Filler’s career, his mentor, the late Herbert Stark, MD, urged him to become active in organizations that he joined, to commit himself to their betterment. Dr. Filler has embraced that philosophy and exhibited it throughout his professional career.
“I think if you’re not involved over and above just the mundane, everyday things, you are not very purposeful,” said Dr. Filler.
In 1985, for example, he accepted a position as the professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the orthopaedic residency program at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles, even though he was already serving as associate clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southern California and had a private practice. He served there for 5 years, leaving in 1990.
“The hospital was built just to serve that community; there wasn’t another in that area. At times, I felt like I was doing my residency all over again. We had so many AK-47 gun shot injuries that military personnel came to learn about wound care,” recalls Dr. Filler.
According to Dr. Robb, “Dr. Filler understood the importance of diversity much earlier than many people. He was able to help keep the education program going so the South Central Los Angeles community got the care that was needed.
“This was a major commitment he made early on—to maintain educational opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds in the orthopaedic community,” said Dr. Robb.
Dr. Filler continues to contribute his orthopaedic and medical skills to the community at large. He has frequently taken to the skies in a Sikorsky helicopter with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, usually on weekends and holidays. He participates in rescue and recovery missions, caring for hikers, scuba divers, and victims of traffic accidents and other traumas. He has learned to rappel from a helicopter into tight areas where the aircraft cannot land.
“You think about the risks, especially when you’re in tense situations and you wonder why you’re doing this. But if you’re into medicine, you know the excitement of it; the challenge is providing the treatment, right there on the scene,” Dr. Filler said.
Dr. Filler currently has a private practice and serves as a clinical professor in orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A hand surgery specialist, he helped children with cerebral palsy by performing muscle transplants—enabling a child with a completely disabled hand to have some function.
Along with his participation in the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, Dr. Filler has extensively lectured on upper extremity in cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities.
He is also a nationally recognized authority on running and jogging injuries who has taught several postgraduate courses on running injuries.
An effective, influential leader
“Blair Filler is one of the few people who has had more influence on the Academy than anyone in a nonpresidential position,” according to Dr. Haralson.
Dr. Filler has served on the Board of Councilors, including a term as chair. He has also served on the Academy’s Board of Directors for 6 years—4 years as treasurer.
“As the treasurer, he demonstrated tremendous judgment and leadership—balancing the financial resources of the Academy with the many presidential requests for various expenditures,” said Dr. Haralson.
“He has a quiet but persuasive leadership style; I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He has a profound knowledge of a range of subjects that makes him highly influential,” he continued.
When he completed his term as treasurer, Dr. Filler thought his work with the Academy was over. But in 1985, the Board of Directors appointed him and two other fellows to represent AAOS in efforts to establish what is now known as the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding system. As a result, Dr. Filler has been described as the “king of coding” by some of his colleagues.
Dr. Filler has received awards from both the California Orthopaedic Association and the American Medical Association for his coding work.
He also distinguished himself while serving as the chair of the Board of Councilors, according to Dr. Robb. “He effectively managed some difficult issues—creating a bridge between councilors representing their constituents and the Academy leadership.
“Dr. Filler helped establish both credibility and value for the Board of Councilors—an organization that was young and growing—through his dedicated leadership at that time.”
The ultimate accomplishment
Dr. Filler considers teaching as one of the high points of his career. “You can always tell how successful you are when you see how effective your students are with their patients,” he said.
He helped establish and continues to contribute to the orthopaedic CPT program. “The AAOS was the first specialty to develop a Global Service Data text, listing the CPT codes for all the various things that orthopaedists do. It’s a resource that explains what’s included and excluded in each of the 1,653 orthopaedic codes. The Global Service Data text has been very well received and has generated significant revenue for other nonrevenue producing programs,” he noted.
But his proudest accomplishment is his marriage to his wife, Dodie. As he puts it, she does everything he does—runs marathons (she has done 21), has a pilot’s license, goes to Washington, D.C., and lobbies representatives of Congress with him. In fact, they both win their respective age categories in the AAOS Annual Meeting Fun Run every year.
Dr. Filler freely admits that their partnership has made it possible for him to achieve much in his lifetime. And they clearly look forward to sharing more of their marathon life together.
Annie Hayashi is the senior science writer with AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adding up the years as a volunteer
- 29 years of volunteering with the AAOS, including current seats on the Coding, Coverage, and Reimbursement Committee (chair), Council on Advocacy (member) and Guidelines and Technology Oversight Committee (member)
- Vice president of the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA)
- 21 years as the AOA representative to the American Medical Association Current Procedural Terminology Advisory Committee
- 13 years as vice president of the International Center for Orthopaedic Education Active member
- Western Orthopaedic Association
- California Medical Association
- California Orthopaedic Association
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand
- Twentieth Century Orthopaedic Association
- American Medical Association
Volunteer and donor
- Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation