I became an orthopaedic surgeon because...
When I was a child, I wanted to be like my pediatrician, Dr. Carlos Enriquez. He made kids feel better, even if they needed a shot or a medicine. And he cared about things like nutrition and diet, and as a kid I listened to what he said and he helped me to stay healthy.
I went to medical school wanting to help people the way Dr. Enriquez did. But I also had the experience of four years of college at an engineering school, so while I still wanted to help people, I also wanted to “fix” them. There were many ways to “fix” patients…with medicines, with surgery, or with rehabilitation, to name a few. But of all the doctors who “fixed” patients, orthopaedic surgeons seemed the most satisfied by doing so, and I wanted a job that I would enjoy doing every day of my working life.
At first I worried that as an orthopaedic surgeon I might not help as many people as an internist or pediatrician. Then, one fateful day in third year of medical school, I told this to the legendary Dr. Wayne Southwick. He laughed, put his arm around me and explained that the most common reasons to see a doctor are for problems that orthopaedic surgeons treat. Since that day, I never considered doing anything else, and I have never awoken without enthusiasm for the day and the appreciation that as an orthopaedic surgeon I feel like I have the best job anywhere.
What is the most rewarding part of being an orthopaedic surgeon?
What I love most about being an orthopaedic surgeon is the variety of ways in which I can help patients. Surgery really is only half of our job. Most patients with orthopaedic complaints don’t need surgery, and when I can help a patient recover their function without needing surgery, I feel as good as when I relieve their arm pain by removing a herniated disc in their neck with surgery. The key is to treat each patient as you would want to be treated. Patients appreciate everything we do for them, whether it’s prescribing a medicine or physical therapy, or performing surgery to “fix” their problem. And I think that’s what I find most rewarding about being an orthopaedic surgeon. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling way to spend my working life.
What do you like to do in your free time?
The reality is that being a clinically busy academic orthopaedic spine surgeon does not leave me with much free time. Thankfully, I can usually find time, especially on weekends, to spend with my family, enjoying a great movie, playing in the backyard, or sharing a great dinner in our home with other family friends. I have also tried to remain an avid runner, participating in a couple of long-distance races each year, and joining a group of friends in my neighborhood on most mornings to run our 5+ mile daily loop.
In what volunteer activities or efforts do you engage that mean the most to you and those you serve?
I enjoy fundraising with my family in support of local causes in our community. However, I find some of my most meaningful volunteer activities relate to my participation in orthopaedic volunteer organizations. Whether it’s serving as the Chair of the Communications Cabinet for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons or as the President of the Cervical Spine Research Society, I feel that my volunteer efforts through these organizations can have a much broader impact and reach many more people beyond those that I personally treat in my day-to-day orthopaedic practice.
Ortho-pinions by Dr. Alan S. Hilibrand
- Increase Your Cardio and Aerobic Health to Improve Bone Strength
- Why do some people say low back surgery does not work?
- I broke the C2 bone in my neck and am wearing a hard brace. Will I be able to drive?
- Deciding to Have Spinal Surgery