Lisa K. Cannada, MD, did her residency at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and completed a trauma fellowship at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore when she was 39 years old. “Beginning my career in orthopaedics later than others provided me with the extra drive to make a difference,” she said.


Published 7/1/2018
Jothi Murali, MD

Women in Orthopaedic Leadership Pave the Way for Future Generations

Female leaders encourage diversity to advance the field of orthopaedic surgery

I first met Lisa K. Cannada, MD, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon, when I was a medical student at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Cannada always reached out to younger generations of students pursuing careers in orthopaedic surgery, and she was the faculty advisor to my interest group. When she brought me into the operating room (OR) for orthopaedic cases as a second-year medical student, I knew it was the career I wanted.

Dr. Cannada served as my mentor throughout medical school, residency, and fellowship, and she continues to do so now that I am a practicing orthopaedic surgeon. Recently, I spoke with her to gain more insight into her career path and tips for reaching professional goals.

Dr. Murali: Can you describe your career path?

Dr. Cannada: I was an experienced athletic trainer and frequently worked with orthopaedic surgeons when I decided to pursue my passion for orthopaedics. I started medical school at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore at age 29. I went on to residency at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and completed a trauma fellowship at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore when I was 39 years old. Beginning my career in orthopaedics later than others provided me with the extra drive to make a difference.

Dr. Murali: What are some of the differences between life as an athletic trainer and life as an orthopaedic surgeon?

Dr. Cannada: Treating athletes and working on their recovery motivated me. As a trainer in college, I worked with the athletes 40 hours per week; I traveled to their games and worked closely with orthopaedic surgeons. After graduation, I worked full time as an athletic trainer. As time went on, however, I found that I wanted to be the one making the decisions for the athletes’ care, instead of referring them to an orthopaedic surgeon. I wanted to be the orthopaedic surgeon and take on that challenge. Exposure to orthopaedic trauma at the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center during medical school further solidified my decision for a subspecialty.

Dr. Murali: Given this more circuitous path, do you have any regrets?

Dr. Cannada: Bringing a wealth of life experiences to your work is important because it makes you a better doctor by having to earn a living and take on life responsibilities. I advise doing something outside of medicine for a year so that you can relate to your patients. Although I’m in academics, I treat a lot of patients from a variety of cultures and social settings. I need to be able to relate to them to treat them and help maximize their outcomes.

Most importantly, if something is your passion, you don’t have to follow the traditional path. Remember to foster relationships—you never know who can provide help along the way.

Dr. Murali: Did you have any mentors? How did they support you? Did any have leadership qualities you have tried to emulate?

Dr. Cannada: John E. Herzenberg, MD, director of pediatric orthopaedics at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, was a great mentor. I was a student when he was a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He is an international expert in limb lengthening and reconstruction, and he taught me about the use of Ilizarov frames and furthered my interest in orthopaedic surgery. I spent time with Dr. Herzenberg while he saw patients and when he was in the OR. I wanted to emulate the way he treated his patients and the difference he made in their lives. I was particularly struck by the ease and expertise with which he handled the more complicated or difficult ones. We developed a mentor-mentee relationship, and I benefitted from his advice and assistance. I remember his dedication to being a mentor. When we were working on a research project, he went above and beyond to ensure I understood the project and how to do research. That focus carries on to how I interact with the medical students and residents I do research with.

Courtesy of Lisa K. Cannada, MD

Dr. Murali: What motivates you in your career?

Dr. Cannada: A constant, unwavering desire to make a difference in patients’ lives and a mission to bring the best and brightest to our field, which means facilitating the path for women who decide to pursue a career in orthopaedic surgery. I desire to make the path easier and better for those who follow.

Dr. Murali: What does diversity mean to you?

Dr. Cannada: Diversity doesn’t just refer to gender and physical characteristics. Diversity is varying thought, practice, and ideas. It is this diversity that lends the strongest contribution to orthopaedics. We need to attract the best candidates, and this means drawing from a diverse pool.

Dr. Murali: What gives meaning to your life and to your work?

Dr. Cannada: Family has always been a cornerstone in my life. I talk to my parents on the phone every day. My husband, Jeff, and daughter, Annalise, give deep meaning to my life. I have been married 27 years and could not have undertaken this journey without the support of my husband. My daughter sees in me someone who works above and beyond the office, yet she knows how much I love her and take part in her life.

In my work, I love seeing results in my patients. To start with a mangled extremity or other life-changing injury and see the outcomes I can provide is truly powerful. I continually enjoy the relationships I have built with my patients; many have my phone number.

Dr. Murali: What skills have enabled your success?

Dr. Cannada: Organizational skills are essential to juggling many commitments. Additionally, it is important to work well with staff. When staff are treated with compassion and respect, they will help you accomplish your day-to-day and career goals.

Dr. Murali: How does one learn organizational skills?

Dr. Cannada: Start making organization a habit early on! Write out a plan for the day, week, year—and check your progress regularly. The habits you learn during residency should carry into your career. For example, we keep case logs during residency. It’s important to continue doing that as you transition into practice so that you can reflect on cases and improve as a surgeon.

I teach others not to leave work without finishing all charts and dictating all OR cases. Making the most of down time between cases is also essential. I always carry a bag of work with me because you never know when you’ll have an opportunity to complete tasks.

Dr. Murali: Do you have any specific advice for medical students, residents, and young orthopaedic surgeons?

Dr. Cannada: Set short- and long-term goals. Create an action plan for achieving goals and follow through on it. Find a mentor and then pay it forward by becoming a mentor yourself. When you operate with attendings, take notes on their techniques.

Dr. Murali: What leadership roles have you held?

Dr. Cannada: I am a past president of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS). I started my involvement with the society as part of the mentorship and mentoring committees. I was involved in the first (and subsequently second) edition of the RJOS Guide for Women in Orthopaedic Surgery and then joined the RJOS board of directors.

When I started my term as RJOS president, I set a three-year goal to increase membership by 25 percent, which was exceeded. I gave talks on orthopaedic trauma in multiple venues, which helped increase my exposure and created connections.

Dedication to resident and fellow education has always been a focus of mine. It was a natural fit when I became chairperson of the Board of Subspecialty Societies (BOS) Match Oversight Committee, a subcommittee of the BOS of AAOS, as this gave me experience and exposure, which led to my nomination for BOS secretary of the Academy. I was also the first female BOS chair.

I have been involved in several committees of both the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) and the Academy for more than a decade. My passion for mentoring and dedication to diversity in orthopaedics led me to spearhead events such as the annual Women in Trauma breakfast (now the Kathy Cramer luncheon) and the OTA’s Young Practitioners Forum. I am still active in OTA and relished my time on the OTA Board of Directors from 2011 to 2014.

I am currently working with the Academy on volunteer activities and the Mid-America Orthopaedic Association, serving on the board of directors and as chair of the education committee to develop and provide programming to benefit medical students, residents, and young practitioners.

Dr. Murali: Did you always want to be a leader in orthopaedics?

Dr. Cannada: Yes, I was always driven to be a leader in the field. I knew I wanted to influence and shape orthopaedics and future generations. I want the field to be inclusive and draw strength from the benefit of talent and diversity, and I will continue to champion diversity. I believe we need to create a positive environment through awareness of crucial issues that affect the culture and demonstrate that we care for future orthopaedic surgeons.

Jothi Murali, MD, is in private practice at Golden Gate Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery in Campbell, Calif.