February 1999 Bulletin

Time to decide our public image: generalists or technologists?

During the last year, we have heard a great deal of interest expressed by you, the fellowship of the Academy, in our taking an active role in enhancing the image of the orthopaedic surgeon in the eyes of the general public. It is true that it is very difficult for members of the general public to understand the difference between orthopaedists, osteopaths and orthodontists. It is even difficult for folks to know how orthopaedic surgeons differ from podiatrists when it comes to taking care of the foot or differ from chiropractors when it comes to taking care of disorders of the back, although many only fear that if they get into our hands, they will end up undergoing surgery.

The Board of Councilors has debated this issue for several years and has urged the Board of Directors to move forward with an educational program that will present us in a positive light for the patients whom we would like to serve.

Perceiving the importance of this request, your Board of Directors has created a Task Force on Public Relations which is chaired by Terry Canale, MD. That task force is exploring a variety of ways to enhance the public's awareness of orthopaedic surgeons and what we do. Over the next several months, a specific program will be developed to fulfill this objective. In order to effectively influence the thinking of the general public, even in the most basic of ways, an organization such as ours must spend a large amount of money. Therefore, we want to be certain that the eventual message that is conveyed to the public is one which is representative of most, if not all, of the fellowship.

Over the last 20 years, I have perceived a shift in the self-perception of orthopaedic surgeons. Two or three decades ago, the orthopaedic surgeon was interested in and responsible for treating all musculoskeletal conditions, both operatively and nonoperatively. With the enhancements in our surgical skills and technical expertise, I have seen a shift away from this generalist approach to a more surgically oriented technologist who may not be so willing to spend a lot of hours in the office treating the more mundane conditions nonoperatively. If indeed this is the case, it could be hazardous to project to the public the image of an orthopaedic surgeon as one who is willing to see all musculoskeletal complaints in his or her office in a timely fashion, if indeed the only patients the surgeon wants to see are those who can be operated upon.

It is time for us to do a very critical self-analysis and identify who we want to be before we project that image to the public. It will be the major function of the Task Force on Public Relations to first identify our self-perception and then create an image that we as an organization can project to the public which best reflects that self-perception.

You will be receiving surveys from the task force, and there will be other opportunities to voice your particular point of view on this subject. I hope that you will take the time to participate actively in this process by returning any survey material that you receive and speaking forthrightly and openly with your leadership on this matter. Dr. Canale; Robert D. D'Ambrosia, MD; and I would love to hear from you so that the eventual message that is presented to the public is representative and the best for all of orthopaedics. Let us know what you think.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation once again to the fellowship for electing me to the presidency of this great organization. I have thoroughly enjoyed my year, and I wish to thank to all of the members of the Board of Directors, the many orthopaedic volunteers and Academy staff who have made my year so pleasant. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to have served you.

James D. Heckman, MD

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