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Dr. Tolo, a past president of the AAOS, is currently the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (American volume) and serves as a professor at the University of Southern California (USC), where he received the USC Resident Teaching Award in 1990 and the Professor of the Year Award in 2000.


Published 3/1/2012
Peter Pollack

Vernon T. Tolo, MD, Accepts Tipton Leadership Award

AAOS honors physician for his “untiring commitment”

In nominating Vernon T. Tolo, MD, for the 2012 William W. Tipton Jr, MD, Leadership Award, John P. Dormans, MD, and Frances A. Farley, MD, spoke of Dr. Tolo’s untiring commitment to educating younger surgeons.

“As a mentor to the young orthopaedic surgeons participating in the Leadership Fellows Program,” wrote Dr. Dormans and Dr. Farley, “Dr. Tolo continues to stress the importance of extending services beyond that of patient care only and giving back to the orthopaedic community as a whole through advocacy and educational programs.”

Vernon T. Tolo, MD

“I am pleased and surprised to receive the Tipton Award,” said Dr. Tolo. “It is a great honor for me as there are so many people within the Academy who have demonstrated exemplary leadership.”

A teacher, a leader
Dr. Tolo instituted the Leadership Fellows Program (LFP) in 2002, during his term as AAOS president. Since its inception, the LFP has facilitated in the development of more than 150 young physicians, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the AAOS and within their own communities.

“In 2000, I happened across Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam,” explained Dr. Tolo. “The book looks at social disengagement in the United States and how organizations often lose membership over time. I decided it was important to stimulate future leaders of the Academy and provide them with the values for which it stands. The Leadership Fellows Program has become more successful than I ever envisioned.”

Dr. Tolo talks fondly of his own mentors and colleagues, people who helped him throughout his medical career. He cites former AAOS president James H. Herndon, MD, whom he met while serving in the U.S. Army, as an early influence.

“Jim and I ran an amputee service together in the Army in 1971,” he said. “He had just finished his residency, and he was a very good influence for me in looking toward building a career in orthopaedics, clinical research, and commitment to the academic world.

Robert A. Robinson, MD, who was the chief of orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins at the time, taught me about the importance of careful clinical examination and surgical technique. And Robert Gillespie, MD, with whom I did my fellowship in Toronto, taught me a lot—not only about pediatric orthopaedics, but about life in general. Many people have influenced me, people I have admired and tried to emulate in some ways. The list is pretty long.”

Dr. Tolo has turned that mentoring influence forward, taking on the role of mentor and teacher to many medical students and orthopaedic residents.

“It’s very satisfying when you run into someone and they tell you that you were the reason they went into orthopaedics,” he said.

Importance of diversity
Dr. Tolo, who speaks of attending a “one-room high school” in rural North Dakota, learned early to appreciate the value of diversity—a cause he has continued to champion throughout his career.

“Dr. Tolo’s commitment to orthopaedics is exemplary and unique,” wrote Dr. Dormans and Dr. Farley. “He has worked throughout his career to foster leadership skills among younger members, while encouraging diversity within orthopaedics. He also championed for unity between specialties in the hopes of strengthening the voice of orthopaedics as a whole.”

“It’s been shown that patients often relate better to people who have a similar ethnic background,” Dr. Tolo explained “Just as our whole country has been improved through increased diversity, I believe orthopaedics has improved as well.

“Added to the importance of ethnic diversity, at least half of the students in medical school these days are women,” he continued. “Many of them are high-ranking in terms of academic performance, and if we aren’t working to broaden our reach and attract more women into orthopaedics, we’ll be missing out on a lot of talented people.”

In addition to serving as president of AAOS, Dr. Tolo was president of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) in 1994–1995 and the Scoliosis Research Society in 1995–1996. He is also the former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Orthopaedics. He received POSNA’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 2009.

Video presentation of the Tipton Leadership Award presentation at the 2012 Annual Meeting

Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaos.org