Orthopaedic surgeon Manny Sethi, MD, announced his campaign for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat on June 3 and has been endorsed by AAOS’ Orthopaedic Political Action Committee. This interview was conducted by AAOS First Vice President Joseph A. Bosco III, MD, FAAOS, during a fundraiser he hosted for Dr. Sethi in his home on June 25.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with AAOS fellow and U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi, MD, about his experience running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee. We discussed how Dr. Sethi became interested in politics and the importance of having a physician—specifically an orthopaedic surgeon—in Congress. I have said before that advocacy is vitally important to our profession; it is true now more than ever. Having members of Congress who understand what we do on a daily basis, such as Dr. Sethi, enhances our ability to provide high-quality, high-value care for our patients. I am proud to support Dr. Sethi because I know it is not about the letters beside his name, but rather electing candidates who understand the complexities of practicing medicine in an overregulated market and who will fight to ease the burden. I am on the Board of Directors for the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (OrthoPAC), and we like to say that you cannot spell orthopaedic without an R, D, or I.
Dr. Bosco: Why did you decide to run for the U.S. Senate?
Dr. Sethi: I am the product of the American Dream in Tennessee.
My parents were first-generation immigrants and practiced medicine for 25 years in a small town in Coffee County, Tenn. I grew up next to a cornfield in Hillsboro, Tenn., a town that made its living through farming. People didn’t have a lot, but they had each other, and from a very young age I learned the power of local community. Hillsboro, Tenn., is the reason I am who I am.
As a young man, I lost my dad; his loss acutely focused me on finding meaning in my own life. I realized during that time that the Lord’s purpose for me was to follow in my dad’s footsteps and make a difference in the lives of so many. I became an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at a leading trauma care hospital in Nashville, Tenn., and have cared for many patients across the state with life-threatening injuries. Almost a decade ago, my wife and I started Healthy Tennessee, a statewide nonprofit organization that has cared for thousands of patients in almost every county. Our organization has harnessed the same power of local communities that I saw growing up in rural middle Tennessee.
Now I want to make a different kind of difference and be your next U.S. Senator. The American Dream I have lived is in great peril, and I want to fight to keep it alive. For too long, career politicians in Washington have said one thing and done another, while people in places like Tennessee pay the price for a government that is out of touch with its own citizens. Whether it is fixing health care, cutting runaway spending, stopping illegal immigration, or ending the opioid epidemic, I believe President Donald Trump needs a trauma surgeon in the U.S. Senate who can act decisively for his patients—the people of Tennessee. I stand ready to serve our home state in a new way.
How has working with Healthy Tennessee shaped your view of current healthcare needs and the policies needed to address them?
Dr. Sethi: Nationally, Tennessee ranks near the bottom in terms of the health of its citizens: 13 percent of Tennesseans have diabetes, 34 percent are obese, and almost 39 percent have hypertension. We spend so much money on the back end of these problems, especially in rural areas, and not nearly enough time or money on prevention.
At Healthy Tennessee, we work to harness the power of local communities to bring together health experts and citizens for community health fairs. We have provided hundreds of folks with free health screenings, like blood pressure, retinal eye exams, diabetes, and more, all of which are provided by licensed healthcare professionals. We have brought together dozens of volunteers to educate people about living a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic diseases that take such a toll on health. As our organization has evolved, we’ve also hosted statewide summits on community health and the opioid crisis that have brought together hundreds of healthcare stakeholders. We have seen that too often these health groups are working in silos. If we come together, we have the power, resources, and dedication to make real progress.
What was your experience as the director at the Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute Center for Health Policy?
Dr. Sethi: We were among the first in the nation to start a center focused on health policy in orthopaedics. During the past five years, my colleague A. Alex Jahangir, MD, MMHC, and I have published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and multiple books, including an evidence-based trauma book and a health policy primer with former Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
What will be some of your top priorities if elected to Congress?
Dr. Sethi: We’ll work on finding solutions to surprise billing, providing more autonomy for doctors, conducting more musculoskeletal research, developing better solutions to our broken healthcare system, and bringing relief to the opioid crisis in Tennessee and nationwide through community-based—not Washington-based—answers.
What have been your experiences with AAOS?
Dr. Sethi: AAOS has been such an important resource for me throughout my training and practice. For years, I was a monthly policy columnist in AAOS Now, writing about various health policy topics, such as the Affordable Care Act, reducing healthcare spending, Medicaid expansion, fee for service, and more. AAOS conferences are a great opportunity to learn about and present new research that I can take back to my trauma patients.
We are lucky to be part of a specialty that values advocacy in action. Part of what makes our field so special is our drive to think outside the box and solve problems with innovative solutions. Of course, the dedication of AAOS in advocating for our specialty is unmatched. As a proud OrthoPAC Capitol Club member, I have always appreciated our political prowess, and it’s humbling to see our PAC come full circle and enlist its support in my candidacy.
How can your fellow orthopaedists help with the cause?
Dr. Sethi: I need my fellow orthopods with me in this race! Any help would be greatly appreciated. You can share my story with your friends and family. Go to our website at www.drmannyforsenate.com and find ways to get involved, or help put some gas money in our tank by making a financial contribution.
What experiences or perspectives will you bring as a first-term U.S. Senator?
Dr. Sethi: As orthopaedic surgeons, we make tough decisions every day for the health and well-being of our patients. I’m prepared to act strategically and decisively to produce results for the American people. As the son of U.S. immigrants, I am the product of the American Dream. I do not take for granted the incredible opportunities this country offers and will fight to protect our values of freedom, justice, and liberty for all. I’m ready to represent the people of Tennessee, and having grown up in rural Coffee County, I know the struggles that so many Tennesseans face in gaining access to health care and other critical services.
What advice do you have for colleagues who want to engage more in advocacy?
Dr. Sethi: Anyone can get engaged and make a difference. Contact your local legislators and share what is important to you and your practice. Research, write, and share your ideas with others in the medical and health policy community.
What is a fun fact about you?
Dr. Sethi: I met my wife, Maya, when we were 16 years old, and we have been together ever since. We have a pug that is 15 years old, and our kids, who are six and three years old, keep him active.
Joseph A. Bosco III, MD, FAAOS, is the first vice president of AAOS.