I became an orthopaedic surgeon because...
My Path to Orthopaedic Surgery
When I think about how I decided to become an orthopaedist, I am tempted to pull out the essay I enclosed with my applications to residency. The problem is, this essay lacked 2 things: honesty and humor.
The short answer is this. My father was an orthopaedic surgeon. I have known few people to be as happy about their profession as he was, and he did not stop practicing until a few months before he died two years ago. But my father was an imposing man. He stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and wore size 14 and a half shoes. He filled up a room in physical size and in conversation. So my natural inclination was to choose a career as far away from his as possible if I had any hope of creating a reputation for myself that was not influenced by him.
When I was in college, I spent the first two years pursuing a degree in Art History. I reluctantly filled my math and science requirements with pre med classes because they came easily to me. There was a program through my alma mater, Williams College, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, called Arts and Humanities. Liberal arts students from Williams, Amherst, Wesleyan, Princeton, and some other liberal arts schools that were eligible for early admission to medical school provided that we spent two summers at the medical school focusing on science and pre med work. I applied for this program with two hours to spare on a whim, deciding this would keep my options open. Somehow I was accepted, and the rest was history, sort of.
I began medical school convinced that I would become a pediatrician until I did my pediatrics rotation at the beginning of my third year of school. General pediatrics was not for me. My general surgery rotation was next. I felt closer to home. I decided that I would be a surgeon, but NOT an orthopaedic surgeon. Until I did my orthopaedic surgery rotation. Here I felt at home. Knowledge that had previously felt extraneous to my medical career became relevant and useful. The anatomy came easily to me. The concepts seemed familiar. And I found myself feeling more useful. It just stuck.
Many orthopaedic surgeons are athletes, as was I, although not a particularly good one. Many orthopaedic surgeons are strong and tall, as am I, although not particularly strong. Few orthopaedic surgeons are women, but our presence is growing steadily. My niche as a pediatric sports doctor could not feel more congruent with my personality and strengths as a person and a doctor. And now that my father has been gone for two years, I feel fortunate to feel close to him and the passion he had for orthopaedics for the majority of his 69 short years. Coming to work every day feels right.
What is the most rewarding part of being an orthopaedic surgeon?
I think I am sending a good message to the next generation… In the morning when I leave for work, my 6-year-old tells my 3- and 1-year olds, “It’s okay guys. Mommy will come home soon. She has to go fix the kids.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
What free time? As a mother of three kids age 6 and under, free time is scarce. I make the most of it, though. I love to run, hike, and play tennis. My yoga practice has become near and dear to my heart in the last decade–it helps me to keep in shape and to breathe through the challenges of being a surgeon.
In what volunteer activities or efforts do you engage that mean the most to you and those you serve?
I volunteer my time working with professional societies such as AAOS, Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America, and the California Orthopedic Association. I spend a half day every other week volunteering in my children’s schools. I find that nothing compares to the work that I do with my patients as a surgeon, however.
Ortho-pinions by Dr. Jennifer Weiss
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- Shared Decision-Making
- A Stance Against Obesity in Children