Teacher of Teachers and Leaders: A Historical Look at Our Development

By Michael Simon, MD

Orthopaedic Surgery has grown since I came to the University of Chicago in 1975. At that time, I was one of three faculty in our section in the Department of Surgery. There were 8 residents, and none of the faculty or residents were women.

I have been fortunate to be able to reflect on my years at UChicago as a time of dramatic, positive change in orthopaedic surgery. I’ve seen the Residency Program grow to accept 5 students per graduating class. I’ve seen the founding and growth of the Hand, Sports, Joints, and Musculoskeletal Oncology fellowship programs. I’ve seen our Section grow into a Department with the power to make important decisions about its own growth. We’ve dramatically expanded our clinical footprint with 7 offsite clinics in metropolitan Chicago. We now have 25 faculty, including five women. The hiring of Tessa Balach, Holly Benjamin, Megan Conti Mica, Kelly Hynes, and Jennifer Wolf has been a far-reaching and decisive step forward for us and everyone we teach, lead, and serve.

I would like to place the spotlight on one particular aspect of our success as a Department in the years that I’ve been able to witness firsthand: the remarkable number of surgeons we teach who go on to become academic surgeons. Between 1980 and 2016, 32 of our Residents went on to become full-time academic medical center faculty, out of 109 residents trained. Five of you have become residency program directors, three have become department chairs, and one has become the editor of an academic journal.

As a teacher who has witnessed so much of the history of orthopaedic surgery at our University and sought to learn about what happened here before my time, I take pride in the fact that our Department is once again a distinguished teacher of teacher and leaders. In future editions of this newsletter, I hope to share some of what I’ve discovered about the history of our department as an educator of leaders in our field.

Howard Hatcher, section chief from 1940-1961, liked to say of resident education that “you train animals and teach humans.” There is much more that goes into producing a good surgeon than the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills.

When I walk down the hall and see the photographs of all the graduating residents from years past, I reflect on the personal relationships we build in our education programs. For many of you, I can visualize moments from your life and professional events, or recall snippets of personal mentoring. I remember discussions of “strategic napping” when duty hour restrictions were implemented in the 2000s. I remember emerging from a cake at a social function in the 1980s. I remember the year in the early 1990s when I offered free annual meeting trips to any resident who scored 90% or higher on the OITE, and ended up reimbursing 7 out of 8 residents.

The majority of you reading this newsletter are successful private practitioners. Some of you have remained in academia beyond your residency and fellowship years, teaching future generations of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Whatever your career path, all of us who have played parts in the life of this Department have a remarkable heritage in common. I’m already looking forward to telling you more about this heritage next quarter.

Michael Simon, MD, is a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. An expert in orthopaedic oncology, he has served as the Chief of the Section of Orthopaedic Surgery and as Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education. He now focuses his energies on the Department as a full-time mentor to its faculty, fellows, residents, and staff. His current research focuses on the history of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Chicago.

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