“I can play with anyone on the ice—even people who are twice as big as I am,” said Giselle Tan, MD. “Hockey is a game of speed and skill, not just size and strength.”
Dr. Tan, an orthopaedic surgeon who practices in Billings, Mont., spends quite a bit of her free time playing for a team in the recreational leagues at the local ice rink. She may be much shorter and lighter than many of the other players, but the stereotype-busting Dr. Tan—who, for the record, stands about 5 feet tall—loves competing in the fast-paced sport. She finds a great deal of relaxation and camaraderie in hockey and greatly enjoys her challenging role as goalie.
A born athlete
The sports-minded Dr. Tan, who grew up playing Little League baseball, began playing roller hockey after she graduated from college and soon switched to ice hockey. While competing in the demanding team sport, she fractured her clavicle and later had a medial collateral ligament tear. Her hockey injuries brought her in contact with an orthopaedic surgeon.
“We would have 1-hour office visits,” remembered Dr. Tan, with a smile. “He was a skier and I was a snowboard instructor at the time, so we had a lot in common. He influenced me to go into orthopaedics.”
Dr. Tan completed her orthopaedic residency at the University of Michigan and then completed a fellowship in foot and ankle surgery at the Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan in Grand Rapids.
Today, the busy orthopaedic surgeon specializes in foot and ankle surgery at the Billings Clinic, a community-owned healthcare organization that includes a multispecialty physician group practice, a hospital, and a skilled nursing and assisted living facility.
“I find orthopaedic surgery to be the most exciting medical specialty,” she continued. “In this field, we have the ability to improve our patients’ function and quality of life so much more than in any other area of medicine. I love what I do.”
Hitting the ice
During hockey season, when she is not seeing patients or performing surgery, Dr. Tan is often out on the ice, playing against other co-ed teams at the local ice rink. She acknowledges the commonly held view of hockey players as “big goons who get into fights,” but she is quick to point out that hockey is not about fighting—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Most people play for the fun, the camaraderie, and the exercise, she notes.
She does note, however, that she “does not fit the typical mold” of a hockey player. Her size does not hamper her in any way from fiercely blocking shots as she defends her team’s goal.“Playing hockey is a great way to unwind and relax after a week of work,” said Dr. Tan. “It is the ultimate rush to prevent a score by keeping the puck from going into the net.” She believes that participating in sports helps her focus on the things that really matter in life, both for herself and for her patients.
“Most of my patients are pleasantly surprised when they find out that I play hockey,” she said. “For the most part, patients think it’s cool that I can ‘hang with the big boys.’
“Most of my patients want to get back to the things that are important in their lives, whether that means sports, work, or just the activities of daily living,” she continued. “I think playing sports helps me remember how much those abilities matter to my patients. I understand how much my patients with sports-related injuries want to get back on the playing field.”
For Dr. Tan, playing hockey is integral to maintaining a healthy work–life balance. She thinks it is important for busy orthopaedic surgeons to make time for activities such as sports.
“I think being involved in sports is a great way to feel more energized and get some exercise,” she said. “I can’t imagine not including playing some kind of sport. It makes me a better surgeon.”
Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com
Female orthopedic surgeon defies multiple stereotypes