AAOS Bulletin - October, 2005

The Public Education & Media Relations Committee

Spreading the word about orthopaedics

By Carolyn Rogers

In 1999, two AAOS commissioned surveys of orthopaedists and consumers showed that orthopaedic surgeons rank higher in “high-tech” areas, such level of medical training, than in “high-touch” areas, such as listening to patients, and that one-third of consumer respondents had no idea what an orthopaedists does.

In response, the Academy established the Public Education & Media Relations (PEMR) committee to create and implement a public relations program that would enhance the public’s awareness of orthopaedic surgeons and position orthopaedists as the premier providers of musculoskeletal care. The committee was also charged with overseeing the public relations and image-building initiatives developed to achieve those goals.

The PEMR committee focuses its activities on the field of orthopaedics and orthopaedists—not on the Academy itself, points out John M. Purvis, MD, who has served as PEMR chair since the committee’s inception. “We’re not interested in getting the ‘AAOS’ name out there,” he says. “We want to get orthopaedic surgeons out there.”

Current PEMR activities

In the six years since the committee was established, the PEMR committee has initiated a number of projects, such as Legacy of Heroes, Safe and Accessible Playgrounds, and eMotion Pictures: An Exhibit of Orthopaedics in Art, as well as various public service announcements (PSAs) that have earned dozens of national and international awards for their creativity and effectiveness.

PEMR Committee (from left) Richard A. Schaefer, MD; Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD; Jeffrey M. Smith, MD; Chair, John M. Purvis, MD; Stephen S. Hurst, MD; William W. Robertson Jr., MD.

A broad mix of strategies, tactics, programs and events are used to achieve the goals of PEMR—increasing public awareness and promoting orthopaedics. The PEMR committee—which is comprised of the chair, four members-at-large, a representative of the Council of Musculoskeletal Specialty Societies=, and a representative of the State Orthopaedic Societies Committee—works closely with the PEMR department to ensure that all materials are medically accurate.

“We’re not PR experts”

None of the committee members claim to be public relations experts, Dr. Purvis says. “We defer to the staff for their expertise in that area,” he says. “The value of the committee is really in overseeing the work of the professional writers and media relations experts. Our job is to make sure that all of the information makes sense medically and orthopaedically before it’s sent out.

“For instance, we need to make sure that an X-ray isn’t displayed upside down in a photograph, or that a cast is illustrated accurately,” he says. “But the staff writers know how to present the information in terms that will grab the attention of reporters and be clearly understood by the general public and patients.”

The Committee also reviews and approves all PEMR events, speakers and media spokespersons. Committee members review all AAOS press releases, including the frequent releases highlighting articles published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, as well as the regularly scheduled Prevent Injuries America! releases.

“We’re also available to comment on or assist with newsworthy events, such as Ronald Reagan’s hip fracture a few years ago,” Dr. Purvis explains.

The committee meets twice a year and conducts several conference calls throughout the year. However, “The majority of our work is done electronically, with most folks putting in a couple of hours a week,” Dr. Purvis says.

Annual Meeting preparations

Each year, the Academy mounts an extensive public relations effort to publicize the scientific works presented at the Annual Meeting. In advance of the Annual Meeting, the PEMR Committee members review scientific abstracts for newsworthiness, identify topics of interest for the media briefings and panel discussions, select speakers, and review and approve all press releases.

During the meeting, there are special events and a full-service press room at the convention center to respond to media queries. Journalists from all over the country and around the world pre-register to report on news presented at the meeting.

“Leading up to the Annual Meeting, so much of the work depends on staff,” Dr. Purvis adds. “We want to tip our hat to Sandy Gordon [director of PEMR] and her staff, who always do such a good job.”

The Committee also plays an active role in preparations for the annual Safe. Accessible Playground build, which takes place just prior to the Annual Meeting.

“All of the members participate in the playground build itself, and they’re encouraged to serve as team leaders on the site as well. Some members also serve as designated spokespersons throughout the day,” says Dr. Purvis.

Media spokesperson program

Each week, the Academy receives more than 40 calls from newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations that want to speak to an expert on an orthopaedic topic. Often, PEMR committee members are called upon to serve as spokespersons in these situations.

“Depending on their specialty, some PEMR committee members are contacted several times a month to respond to media queries,” says Addy Kujawa, public relations manager.

PEMR also fosters, supports and maintains a cadre of additional trained spokespersons who can quickly respond to media queries. This activity is critical in establishing orthopaedic surgeons as the experts on conditions affecting muscles, bones and joints. Members who are interested in serving as a spokesperson should visit http://www6.aaos.org/About/Pemr/press.cfm to submit their information.

Media training

All members of the PEMR committee receive media training, and training is also provided for the Presidential line, the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program, and other groups throughout the year. In addition, detailed media training and public relations manuals are available for use by all Academy fellows on the AAOS Web site.


Media support on legislative and advocacy issues important to orthopaedic surgeons is another important aspect of the PEMR program. The committee is also responsible for establishing partnerships with state orthopaedic and specialty societies to foster and support integrated public relations activities for the benefit of the orthopaedic community. The committee reviews and approves all plans and related press releases, and provides suggestions on how to collaboratively work with each specialty society.

Upcoming projects

The PEMR committee is rolling out a number of new programs later this fall and into 2006. Here are just a few of their upcoming projects:

2006 PSA campaigns

The Academy’s 2006 PSA campaign will include radio and television spots, as well as several print ads cosponsored by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA), the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.

Also in 2006, the Academy will introduce a PSA campaign highlighting osteoporosis, with the theme, “Beauty is Bone Deep.” The campaign will feature comedienne Joan Rivers, who will share her experience with orthopaedic surgeon, Joseph M. Lane, MD, from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“Life Cycle of the Athlete” media event

To generate additional media coverage on orthopaedic topics, AAOS and NATA cosponsored a media event in mid-October at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The “Lifecycle of the Athlete” featured four distinct 30-minute sessions during which orthopaedic surgeons and certified athletic trainers discussed musculoskeletal health and physical activity tailored to various age groups. Committee member Nicholas DiNubile, MD, participated in the program.

For information on the 2006 Playground build see the related article on pg 53.

To learn more about the Academy’s PEMR committee and its ongoing activities, please visit http://www6.aaos.org/About/Pemr/press.cfm

Educational outreach materials at your fingertips

To encourage AAOS members’ direct participation in various public relations efforts and to develop their expertise, PEMR has also developed a variety of public education and media relations resources available to members. Most are available at no cost or for shipping and handling charges only:

    • New DVD: “Public Education for You and Your Patients” [Free copy in the October issue of the Bulletin.]

    • New: Pre-recorded announcements for your office telephone system

    • COAP PowerPoint presentations on injury prevention, patient safety, osteoarthritis, back pain and more

    • Media training manual

    • Public relations manual

    • Portable Prevent Injuries America! educational booth for use at trade fairs, hospital or clinic lobbies and meetings

    • Sample press releases, letters to editor

    • Posters, postcards, bookmarks and mouse pads promoting PSA campaigns, as well as the AAOS 75th Anniversary

    • Prevent Injuries America! fact sheets

    • Tool kits to help promote the Bone and Joint Decade, patient safety and injury prevention

To order or download the materials, visit the Public Relations page. For a brochure with more detailed explanations of all the educational outreach products, please contact Pat Julitz by phone at (847) 384-4036 or e-mail julitz@aaos.org

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