“He is the quintessential selfless leader,” said Denis Clohisy, MD, of his long-time colleague, Michael J. Yaszemski MD, PhD, recipient of the 2013 William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award. “I have known Dr. Yaszemski for 25 years, and have followed his career carefully,” said Dr. Clohisy. “It is safe to say that Michael’s contributions in service, clinical excellence, scholarship, and leadership are unparalleled for my generation.”

AAOS Now

Published 4/1/2013
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Jennie McKee

Michael J. Yaszemski, MD, PhD, Receives Tipton Award

Lauded for outstanding efforts as a clinician, researcher, and mentor


Michael J. Yaszemski MD, PhD

The Leadership Award recognizes Academy members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities that have benefitted the orthopaedic community, patients, and/or the American public. The AAOS presented Dr. Yaszemski with this honor during the 2013 Annual Meeting in recognition of his trailblazing orthopaedic research, successful mentoring of orthopaedists and scientists, and his work to provide medical care to patients in various parts of the world as a member of the U.S. military.

According to Dr. Yaszemski, he is motivated by his strong desire to help others, “including family, friends, patients, colleagues, those who want to help others, and those who are themselves in need.”

Groundbreaking researcher
Dr. Yaszemski, a member of both the spine surgery and musculoskeletal oncology divisions at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., directs the Polymeric Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Laboratory in the department of orthopaedic surgery. Since 1994, the National Institutes of Health has continuously funded Dr. Yaszemski’s innovative sarcoma research and his research into bone regeneration via tissue engineering technologies.

“Dr. Yaszemski conceptualized and described, together with Mayo Clinic colleagues, the Mayo classification system for spinosacropelvic tumors,” wrote David W. Polly Jr, MD, professor and chief of the spine service, department of orthopaedic surgery, University of Minnesota, in nominating Dr. Yaszemski for the Leadership Award. “This system guides both the nature of the tumor resection and the subsequent reconstruction of the different ensuing spinopelvic discontinuities.”

Dr. Polly added that “the Mayo team has now performed 116 of these sarcoma resections and reconstructions, and Dr. Yaszemski is currently preparing a report on the long-term oncologic and functional assessment of these patients for publication.”

Since 2006, Dr. Yaszemski has also made major contributions as chair of the Orthopaedic Device Forum. The Orthopaedic Device Forum provides a venue for orthopaedic surgeons to interact with representatives from industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other government agencies to find solutions to problematic legislative and regulatory issues and mandates. Under his leadership, the Orthopaedic Device Forum has presented an exhibit on a device-related topic of interest during the AAOS Annual Meeting.

Dedicated mentor and clinician
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Dr. Yaszemski has helped educate and guide more than 100 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students, as well as residents, clinical fellows, and visiting scientists at his laboratory.

“I believe in people,” said Dr. Yaszemski. “Given the right situation, the right leadership, and a team to be a part of, most people are proud to excel.”

Augustus A. White III, MD, PhD, professor of orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, has known Dr. Yaszemski since 1983, when Dr. Yaszemski began a spine fellowship at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston. According to Dr. White, Dr. Yaszemski leads by example.

“He is an inspiring role model for anyone who works with him in any capacity,” noted Dr. White. “Mike is a brilliant scientist, surgeon, friend, parent, leader, and physician.”

Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. Yaszemski shows great humility.

“Leadership starts with ‘followership,’” asserted Dr. Yaszemski, noting that leaders only lead in certain situations, and for a defined amount of time. “The rest of the time we have to be good followers. It’s that experience as a follower that really guides what to do when one is in a leadership position.”

“He is the quintessential selfless leader,” said Denis Clohisy, MD, of his long-time colleague, Michael J. Yaszemski MD, PhD, recipient of the 2013 William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award. “I have known Dr. Yaszemski for 25 years, and have followed his career carefully,” said Dr. Clohisy. “It is safe to say that Michael’s contributions in service, clinical excellence, scholarship, and leadership are unparalleled for my generation.”

Dr. White describes Dr. Yaszemski as “consistently very thoughtful and considerate of those with whom he works, including students, staff members, colleagues, patients, and others.”

He emphasized that Dr. Yaszemski, who was the first nonminority member of the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, has used his mentoring efforts to help encourage diversity in orthopaedics.

“Those whom he has mentored have come from no fewer than 28 different countries around the world,” said Dr. White. “Approximately 40 percent of his mentees have been women.”

He also praised Dr. Yaszemski’s clinical skills.

“I have been very aware of Mike’s clinical skills from the very beginning of my work with him, as we cared for patients during his spine fellowship,” said Dr. White. “He has taken these fundamental skills to the highest level.”

Serving his country, serving patients
Dr. Yaszemski attended Georgetown University School of Medicine, and then entered active duty in the U.S. Air Force. He completed his orthopaedic residency on active duty at Wilford Hall Medical Center, at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Dr. Yaszemski did two fellowships—one in research at the Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the other in spine at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—and received his PhD in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has also held leadership positions in the Scoliosis Research Society and the American Orthopaedic Association.

He attained the rank of brigadier general during more than three decades of service in the U.S. Air Force, most recently as a reservist. As reserve advisor to the Air Force Surgeon General, Dr. Yaszemski helped to secure life-saving medical care for patients all around the world.

Dr. Polly related an instance in which the U.S. State Department tasked Dr. Yaszemski with assessing the situation of conjoined twin girls born in a refugee camp in Kenya.

“They were beyond the usual age for separation, and the surgical capability to do so did not exist in East Africa,” stated Dr. Polly. “Dr. Yaszemski coordinated their care with local Kenyan physicians, and also arranged for visas for them and their mother to travel to the United States, critical care air transportation with both military and private donors, and charity care at Mayo Clinic. He participated in their separation surgery at Mayo Clinic with the pediatric surgical team.”

Dr. Clohisy noted that he “can think of no person more deserving of the Tipton Leadership Award” than Dr. Yaszemski.

See a video on Dr. Yaszemski http://youtu.be/XKYI5s08chc

This article adapted from the Daily Edition AAOS Now, March 23, 2013.

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org