The traits that make an orthopedic surgeon great


Great orthopedic surgeons must also have great character.

Four orthopedic surgeons connected with Becker's to answer, "What is the No. 1 trait all great orthopedic surgeons have?"

Ask Orthopedic Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting orthopedic care. We invite all orthopedic surgeon and specialist responses.

Next question: What is the hardest part about being an orthopedic surgeon? 

Please send responses to Riz Hatton at by 5 p.m. CST Thursday, Nov. 16.

Note: These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Brett Auerbach, DO. Orthopedic Surgeon at Guthrie Medical Group (Sayre, Pa.): No single trait can make an orthopedic surgeon great. However, in order to be a great orthopedic surgeon, it is necessary to be adaptable. The landscape of orthopedic surgery is constantly changing.  Great surgeons are constantly learning and willing to adapt. Many of the techniques that we learned during residency now seem archaic. Great surgeons are able to adapt their practice patterns in alignment with newer, more effective techniques.  

John Christoforetti, MD. Orthopedic Surgeon at the Centers For Advanced Orthopaedics (Bethesda, Md.): My orthopedic journey has featured meaningful time with many of the greats of our field by fortune and as a result of the support of my wife and family to engage in travel. Some are quite famous and have been featured widely, others are unknown to their local community. Through these experiences, I have learned that all great orthopedic surgeons are, first and foremost, great people who are on a quest to promote the mission of excellent orthopedic care. They make the future care of their patients a priority, and share a commitment to peer and trainee friendship, mentorship and education, often at personal cost.   

While no two people are identical, the No. 1 one trait a great orthopedic surgeon possesses is integrity of character at all scales of personal conduct. They strive to be honest in times when nobody is watching with the same commitment as when on stage. They make and share time with others, make decisions with principled structure, and are open to changing their outlook on best practices without compromising their integrity.   

From the outside looking in, it would be easy to imagine that the greats must have been brilliant at self-promotion, yet the reality is they simply can't help but stand out through the consistency of character and focus on the mission. Plus, most will reference a key moment of opportunity and a lot of support from family, prior mentors and friends. The last thing the greats comment upon is their own greatness.  

I hope this inspires readers to give the greats they know a call of thanks and encourage them to continue on their mission!

Gregory Mundis Jr., MD. Division Chief of Spine Surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla (San Diego): One thing is for certain — if the orthopedic surgeon is not a person of character, then [all of their] responsibilities can crumble. An orthopedic surgeon with integrity and morality will advise the patient in a manner that reflects both poise and love, directing them on a path to recovery. The same individual will treat a colleague, researcher, staff member, hospital administrator, operating room personnel, family member and clinic personnel with kindness and respect. So ultimately, to be great in this field requires, in my opinion, the same fundamental trait that makes any human great. Character. Character will dictate when humility should be dominant. It will demand a leader to speak up even if the topic is uncomfortable. It will require honor in the setting of complications, integrity as it faces off with greed, kindness when the heart is angry, and patience even when circumstances are inconvenient. The good news is, character is built over time. Every one of us will fall short in one way or another. But character, even through adversity, will have the opportunity to grow and become stronger, ready to face the never-ending challenges that orthopedic surgeons encounter every single day.

Clive Segil, MD. Orthopedic Surgeon (Los Angeles and Encino, Calif.): Honesty, integrity, compassion and ethical behavior, accompanying excellent training and practicing with knowledge imbued by mentors of noble character. Sadly these traits are absent in many current orthopedic surgeons lacking a moral compass and the necessary skills and abilities.

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