Thomas P. Sculco, MD


Published 6/1/2014
Sharon Johnson

Past and Present: HSS and OREF Share a Strong Commitment to Research

Since 1955, when the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) was formally constituted at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), the HSS orthopaedic surgery faculty has been among its most faithful supporters. That support has come not only from financial contributions, but also from HSS’ tradition of requiring its residents to apply for OREF funding.

The HSS tradition
HSS’ longstanding financial commitment to OREF is due in large part to the institutional and personal philanthropy of Thomas P. Sculco, MD, HSS surgeon-in-chief and medical director. Dr. Sculco began donating to the OREF Annual Fund after completing his orthopaedic residency at HSS and joining the faculty. Nearly 30 years later, he is still giving to the Annual Fund at the Order of Merit level, providing ongoing encouragement and grant support for several generations of investigators.

Dr. Sculco’s belief that every orthopaedic surgeon has a responsibility to participate in advancing the specialty through research is another example of his commitment to evidence-based patient care. “It’s about making our science better,” he explained. “If you want more scientific validity and you want to strengthen what the profession stands for, then you have to contribute. Everybody should give something.”

Over the years, Dr. Sculco’s example as a faithful donor has gained traction with his colleagues. Every year since 1997, the entire orthopaedic surgery faculty has supported the OREF Annual Fund at the Order of Merit level (contributions of $1,000 or more).

“We felt very strongly that our entire faculty should be donors at the Order of Merit level, and we all committed to it,” Dr. Sculco said. “We now have more than 95 orthopaedic surgeons participating.”

Raising the bar
Dr. Sculco has done much more than ‘give at the office’ to help OREF advance the science and practice of orthopaedics. He has offered a series of major gifts that reflect his exceptional, above-and-beyond approach to philanthropy.

The first of those gifts, in 1997, qualified Dr. Sculco for membership in the Shands Circle, OREF’s prestigious recognition society for donors who contribute $20,000 or more to the OREF endowment.

In addition to his other contributions, Dr. Sculco recently established a personal tradition of giving a major cash gift to OREF each year. He has directed those gifts to grants that support the work of residents who have the skills and commitment needed to simultaneously pursue patient care and research. His major cash gifts in 2013 qualified him as a Founding Member of the new OREF Visionary Research Society, established to recognize nonendowed contributions of $20,000 or more in support of OREF’s Research Fund.

As a result, OREF has been able to award an additional Resident Clinician Scientist Training Grant since 2012. Investigations under OREF grants made possible by Dr. Sculco’s philanthropy currently include the following:

  • Enhancement of Dynamic Biomechanical Properties of Structural Allograft with BMP2-loaded Nanospheres conducted by Anny C-S. Hsu, MD, Columbia University
  • Covalent Targeting Delivery Project conducted by Jose M. Mejia, MD, PhD, University of California, Davis
  • Development of a Multi-Center Quality Improvement Tool After Hip Fracture Surgery: A Hospital-Based, Risk-Adjusted Pilot Study conducted by Andrew J. Pugely, MD, University of Iowa

Inspiring new clinician scientists
Dr. Sculco has also contributed time and expertise as a faculty member for the annual Clinician Scientist Career Development Program (CSCDP) that OREF offers each fall in partnership with the AAOS and the Orthopaedic Research Society. The 2014 CSCDP will be held Sept. 25–27, 2014, in Rosemont, Ill.

“These are young orthopaedic surgeons who are willing to commit a considerable portion of their time—40 percent in our hospital—to research,” Dr. Sculco said. “If you don’t cultivate, encourage, and nurture these young surgeons, they’re not going to make the sacrifices. We need their skills and their insights. We have to help them academically and financially.”

Dr. Sculco explained that it was his first experience on the CSCDP faculty that inspired his decision to underwrite an OREF resident grant each year.

“To get an RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health, young investigators must spend 7 to 10 years of long hours in the lab in addition to their other responsibilities of teaching, seeing patients in clinic, and performing surgery. If we don’t support these orthopaedic surgeons and the institution does not support them, they’ll die on the vine. They will lose interest and enthusiasm and their work will never come to fruition,” said Dr. Sculco.

He added, “We need to find a mechanism to fund these investigators until they can be funded through national grants, and those institutions and individuals who are able must accept that responsibility.”

Shared responsibility
Dr. Sculco feels very strongly that every orthopaedic surgeon should support research through OREF.

“Research is the future of our specialty. The studies that are supported through OREF, in both clinical and basic science, translate into better patient care,” he said. “We all give to our university, medical school, place of worship; that is the American way. We should also give to our specialty. This is what we do every day, so why not make a contribution to help better it?

“Not supporting research as part of your philanthropic endeavors—not reaching out to your specialty and supporting something as noble as research—doesn’t make sense to me,” he continued. “It would be great to be able to say our specialty is actively supporting what we do in the research area—that 85 percent of orthopaedic surgeons in the United States contribute to advancing the research for the general orthopaedic health of the population.”

For information about the Visionary Research Society, OREF’s new research fund, or how to sponsor an OREF grant, contact Edward F. Hoover, vice president of development at or 847-384-4354.

OREF and HSS—a long history
New York’s HSS and OREF have had a special relationship since Oct. 2, 1955. On that day, Philip D. Wilson Sr., MD, fifth surgeon-in-chief of the institution founded in 1863 as the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, presided over the dedication ceremony marking the institution’s formal commitment to specialize in musculoskeletal training and care, and its renaming as Hospital for Special Surgery.

That same day, Dr. Wilson and five other orthopaedic surgeons— Joseph S. Barr Jr, MD; James A. Dickson, MD; Francis M. McKeever, MD; Harold A. Sofield, MD; and Alfred R. Shands Jr, MD—formed the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) to give colleagues throughout the specialty a way to collectively support research as a scientific basis for more effective treatment and better patient care.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the relationship between OREF and HSS. A subsequent article will look at how the HSS residency program uses OREF’s grant application process as a teaching tool.