New members welcomed as ‘Celebrities, heroes, orthopaedic surgeons’

New members welcomed as ‘Celebrities, heroes, orthopaedic surgeons’

By Mary Ann Porucznik

A student, intern, resident, fellow, junior staff member, attending staff member, investigator, inventor, colleague, collaborator, citizen, coach, player, partner, husband, and parent offers advice to new fellows.

In his welcome to the fellowship class of 2007, Thomas F. Varecka, MD, modestly admitted that his address would probably “have a shorter half-life than the latest Super Bowl commercials.” But the thoughtful remarks, “conceived in the observations and experiences of nearly four decades in medicine,” were themselves an advertisement for the field of orthopaedic surgery.

“You are, by all measurable standards, the brightest, most highly educated, most surgically talented, most technologically advanced, and most personally gifted of any group of orthopaedic surgeons to have been inducted into the Academy,” he told the class.

Thomas F. Varecka, MD

Celebrity status

“You are celebrities—known beyond your seemingly small circle of existence, to hospital staff, nurses, administrators, and industry representatives; known in your neighborhoods, and known for your accomplishments in treating the sick, the inured, and in many cases, the poor and neglected,” he said.

He challenged his audience to “translate celebrity into action on behalf of the greater good” by continuing “a life-long commitment to learning, maintenance of sharp surgical skills, involvement with orthopaedic policy making, and service in various orthopaedic organizations.

“Equally, if not more importantly, remember why we entered into this profession in the first place—to care for patients—and remember that the well-being of those patients has to be our primary concern.

“Never forget that compassionately and competently caring for a person with a fractured femur is more important than a compulsive concern for the bottom line, that treating a child with septic arthritis takes precedence, and that empathetically engaging patients when listening to their concerns over how injury or orthopaedic illness may affect their livelihoods and their relationships is more important than whether office hours end on schedule,” he counseled.

“Most of the world,” he continued, “would be quite jealous, for you have gotten what you wanted and, I hope, you want what you have. But accomplishment alone does not guarantee happiness. Satisfaction comes when—and only when—we are able to develop a deep appreciation for what we really have. In the practice of orthopaedics, what we have is the chance to serve others.”

Heroic efforts

Balancing the opportunity to enjoy a comfortable living, according to Dr. Varecka, are the multiple opportunities orthopaedic surgeons have to do good. “It will be when you undertake such service, as humble and trivial as it sometimes may seem, that the hero in you will be realized,” he said.

Heroic actions, he noted, can be commonly carried out in anonymity on an everyday scale. “So it is likely to be for much of your working lives,” he said. “You treat the motor vehicle accident victim at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The world sleeps, paying little heed to your activities, but you make the difference between limb salvage and amputation, between returning to work and registering for disability, between regaining independence and being relegated to assisted living, between restoring self-esteem and sinking into long-term depression.

“It is at times like these that you become the true hero—one who boldly perseveres, who works with strength of conviction, who knows compassion, who has a sense of humor, and you make someone’s world a better place,” he said.

In contrast to a popular theme that “we don’t need another hero,” Dr. Varecka insisted, “We do need heroes! We need heroes because they say something about what our values are, what is good, what is great, what is bad, what we should strive for, and what we should try to avoid. You, as heroes, have the opportunity to do all this and more.”

He recalled the Academy’s Legacy of Heroes campaign, which chronicled the lives and activities of ordinary orthopaedic surgeons, who, when called upon during World War II, did extraordinary things.

“Our predecessors made no mention of the risks, discomforts, or hardships; rather they dwelt only on their opportunities to serve our soldiers in their times of need. This is,” he said, “the essence of heroism.”

Orthopaedic surgeons

“So it will be with your lives and practices,” said Dr. Varecka. “You may see yourselves as ordinary orthopaedic surgeons, but you are capable of doing similarly extraordinary things.

“The challenge I leave with you is to be a hero; to leave this world a better place. As you begin your careers, I ask that you keep these qualities in mind, and give to the best of your abilities. You have been given much. Your patients, your families, and the orthopaedic world will expect much.”

In closing, Dr. Varecka offered the new class three additional pieces of advice, which sent everyone home smiling.

“During your careers,” he said, “you will be invited to do much speaking. When you do, remember these three rules:

“First, to be seen, stand up!

“Second, to be heard, speak up!

“But, to be loved—to be really loved—shut up!”

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