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David M. Atkin, MD, FAAOS, volunteered in South Africa.
Courtesy of Dave M. Atkin, MD, FAAOS

AAOS Now

Published 9/3/2021

Dave M. Atkin, MD, Receives AAOS’ Humanitarian Award for His Commitment to Helping Underserved Communities

Dave M. Atkin, MD, Receives AAOS’ Humanitarian Award for His Commitment to Helping Underserved Communities

AAOS presented its 2021 Humanitarian Award to Dave M. Atkin, MD, FAAOS, of San Francisco.

The Humanitarian Award honors Academy members who have distinguished themselves through outstanding musculoskeletal-related humanitarian activities in the United States or abroad. Dr. Atkin was recognized for more than 25 years of humanitarian efforts, with steadfast commitment and dedication to helping underserved communities and people in need.

“My first position after residency was in Transkei, a homeland of apartheid South Africa,” said Dr. Atkin. “It was so rewarding to help indigent patients who had been denied basic civil rights. At some point I had an epiphany, and I knew that I would always want to work in service to vulnerable populations.”

Dr. Atkin is known for his work as director of Operation Rainbow, an organization dedicated to performing free orthopaedic surgery for children and young adults in developing countries where the necessary medical procedures and supplies are not available.

Operation Rainbow has served more than 17,000 children and provided more than $85 million in aid. Dr. Atkin has led more than 60 surgical missions to Central and South America, Haiti, and the Philippines. In addition to providing core pediatric orthopaedic services, Dr. Atkin has helped create 25 arthroscopy centers within host nations.

Less well known is Dr. Atkin’s equal dedication to serving people in need in the United States. Dr. Atkin is the only private practice orthopaedic surgeon working daily with local underserved communities of southeast San Francisco, where his patients are primarily Latinx and African American.

“Dr. Atkin’s commitment to grassroots social justice in our San Francisco communities and humanitarian work abroad is extraordinary,” said colleague Leonard Gordon, MD, FAAOS. “He dedicates each day of his life, at significant personal sacrifice, to lifting up those who are so often forgotten.”

He supplements his office-based practice with pro bono house calls to indigent people across the San Francisco community and donates free orthopaedic equipment when possible.

Beyond his day-to-day work, Dr. Atkin, together with a small group of other physicians, campaigned diligently to save St. Luke’s Hospital, a critical safety-net hospital in San Francisco, when it was slated for closure. The hospital was initially made part of California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), part of the not-for-profit system Sutter Health. In 2018, after many years of Dr. Atkin’s efforts to galvanize community, church, and political resources, the hospital was rebuilt and assumed its new name, CPMC Mission Bernal Campus, which includes a new $538 million hospital that serves the communities of southeast South Francisco.

Dr. Atkin also devotes time to mentoring local and international students and doctors to improve their understanding of humanitarian work and inspire them to make such work a part of their lives.

“He shares a life philosophy in support of social justice with each new generation of doctors, revealing the power of philanthropy to these principled young men and women and showing them, by example, that one can fulfill the noble desire to help those in need and still manage the pragmatic side of providing for one’s family,” added Dr. Gordon.

In addition to his work in orthopaedics, Dr. Atkin is an active board member for a number of San Francisco Bay area community youth mentoring and educational programs, including the MeWater Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides day and overnight surf camps to youth, families, and groups, with a mental health approach to mindfulness, empowerment, and exposure to the ocean and the great outdoors.

“I have known Dave for many years, and he has remained absolutely consistent in his commitment to humanitarian activities at home and abroad,” said AAOS 2016 Humanitarian Award recipient Richard A. Gosselin, MD, FAAOS. “I do not know anyone more deserving of this honor.”

“I am honored to receive this award,” said Dr. Atkin. “I am proud to be a member of the AAOS and to stand by my colleagues as we seek diversity and inclusivity in our ranks and social equity for our patients.”