I became an orthopaedic surgeon because...

This is my story, and I’m sticking to it. I have read many emotional, heart-wrenching stories about how and why orthopaedists became orthopaedists, but my story isn’t that dramatic. There was no warm and fuzzy mentor-mentee relationship, no orthopaedist I most admired, no one in my family who was an orthopaedist. While an athlete, I never had a career-ending injury that was treated by an orthopaedist who restored me to pre-injury athletic prowess. No, nothing like that.

I was working in a large Philadelphia hospital as an intern. My future had been decided for me by the US Army, and I was on my way to Vietnam because I had been “drafted” after my one-year deferment. The future did not look too bright for me. The best I could hope for was that the war might end, but with fierce battles raging at that time it didn’t seem likely. Then one day I was asked if I was interested in orthopaedics (I was interning in surgery, but didn’t know which specialty I would choose). For lack of a better choice, I answered that, sure, I was interested in orthopaedics. I was told to go see the chairman of the department of orthopaedics because they had an “unexpected opening.” All the chairman asked me was, “When can you start?” I told him soon, but I have this Army draft commitment, possibly in Vietnam. He answered, “Don’t worry about that; I’ll take care of it.” Then he said, “Canale, it seems to me you have two choices—neither one great: either be drafted and go to Vietnam or take the slot of an orthopaedic resident who recently hanged himself in the call room. You have 24 hours to let me know.”

The situation was like that described in an old Southern story of the “road to Elkwood.” A motorist in East Tennessee came to a fork in the road where both roads had signs indicating Elkwood, Tennessee. The motorist saw an old farmer standing on the side of the road and asked him, “Which of these roads is the best one to Elkwood?” After a long pause and considerable thought, the farmer replied, “Mister, I’ll just tell you the truth. Whichever way you go, you’ll wish you’d have gone the other.” That turned out not to be true for me—I took the orthopaedic residency and have never wished for another choice.

I can’t imagine another specialty that provides such a diversity of opportunities to impact the lives of others: from correcting a clubfoot in an infant to repairing a knee ligament in an athlete to replacing a hip in an elderly individual—our specialty restores mobility and improves quality of life for patients of all ages and activity levels. Although not a “glamorous” specialty when I started, when orthopaedists mainly treated diseases such as polio, osteomyelitis, tuberculosis, over the nearly 50 years I have been practicing orthopaedics I have seen it become one of the most exciting, innovative, and effective surgical specialties, and I will be forever grateful that, whatever the circumstances, orthopaedics choose me!

What is the most rewarding part of being an orthopaedic surgeon?

The most rewarding part of being an orthopaedic surgeon is seeing my patients of all ages and all activity levels regain their mobility and return to the activities they enjoy, whether it’s simply walking around the block or running a marathon.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Now that I actually have a little “free” time, I really enjoy painting, especially scenes inspired by the beach and other places I’ve traveled. I’ve been fortunate to have some of my work exhibited by the AAOS, as well as a number of local venues. I also enjoy spending time with my family, especially my three grandsons.

In what volunteer activities or efforts do you engage that mean the most to you and those you serve?

Over the years, I have volunteered in a variety of areas, including Orthopaedics Overseas, which was a most humbling and rewarding experience. Currently, I continue to work with the Arthritis Foundation and a local group, the Drug Court, which helps rehabilitate first-time offenders and assists them in re-entering the workplace.

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