William J. Robb III, MD, Honored With Tipton Award

By: Terry Stanton

William J. Robb III, MD, who for three decades has made exemplary professional contributions to the advancement of orthopaedic surgery, was recognized yesterday as the 2017 recipient of the William W. Tipton Jr, MD, Leadership Award.

Dr. Robb’s practice is focused on reconstructive knee surgery at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute. He has served the Academy and the profession in a number of roles, including three 3-year terms as a Board member and as AAOS secretary, chair of the AAOS Board of Councilors, and chair of the Board of Specialty Societies. He has also served as president of the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons and the Illinois Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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William J. Robb III, MD, receives the 2017 William W. Tipton Jr, MD, Leadership Award from outgoing AAOS President Gerald R. Williams Jr, MD.

In the past 10 years, Dr. Robb has spearheaded an effort to establish a new safety culture in orthopaedics and the broader U.S. surgical community, serving as chair of the AAOS Patient Safety Committee from 2012 to 2016. This commitment bore fruit with the Orthopaedic Surgical Safety Summit in 2012 and culminated last August in the first National Surgical Patient Safety Summit, which brought together more than 100 representatives of surgical professional associations, healthcare systems, payers, regulators, certifying organizations, and government agencies. The summit proposed national surgical safety standards, issued statements of support for new standardized surgical safety educational curricula for both residents and surgeons, and prioritized needed safety research.

The Tipton Leadership Award recognizes Academy members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities that have benefited the orthopaedic community, patients, and/or the American public. The award honors and celebrates the life, accomplishments, and qualities of the late William W. Tipton Jr, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon, educator, and former AAOS chief executive officer.

In his nomination of Dr. Robb for the award, John R. Tongue, MD, AAOS president for 2012–2013, wrote, “Reflecting on Bill Robb’s 30 years of voluntary leadership service and the magnitude of his many contributions to our profession, I believe there is no one more deserving of the Tipton Leadership Award. Over the years, I have marveled at Bill’s ability to move issues and ideas forward as a team builder, often behind the scenes. He understands that successful leadership requires careful preparation, thoughtful discussion, and time to build consensus. He never takes credit for any accomplishments, because he considers all leadership success to be achieved through teamwork. Bill truly has what some call a servant heart.

“The impact of Bill’s leadership, as measured by his considerable achievements in numerous organizations, is obvious,” said Frank B. Kelly, MD. “He has served so successfully in leadership positions ever since he began in orthopaedic practice 40 years ago. Whether it has been his state orthopaedic society, the AAOS Board of Councilors, the AAOS Board of Directors, or numerous other organizations, he has worked diligently to advance important causes and initiatives he felt to be beneficial for his patients, for his colleagues, and for our profession.”

Leon S. Benson, MD, who has practiced with Dr. Robb at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute for some 22 years, said his colleague has influenced and inspired him by demonstrating “the highest standards of ethics and commitment.” Dr. Robb, he wrote, “is always leading, always thinking of ways to improve things, always focusing on orthopaedic surgery as a conduit to improving the human condition. Leadership, volunteerism, and work ethic are three things that Bill lives by, and he is constantly giving to education, research, the AAOS, his colleagues, and most of all, his patients.”

Dr. Robb said he came to know Dr. Tipton, who died in 2005, as a “good friend” as they served together in many Academy projects. “It is very personally gratifying just to be considered for this award. Bill Tipton’s accomplishments are numerous and certainly outnumber mine. All the recipients of this award are honored to have been recognized in Bill’s shadow,” Dr. Robb said.

Addressing the award, Dr. Robb steered the conversation away from himself and toward the importance of “leadership within the context of orthopaedic practice and the essential principles of team leadership for all orthopaedic surgeons.”

Elaborating, he said, “All orthopaedic surgeons are responsible for leadership of the teams that continually manage orthopaedic patient care throughout every episode of care. Effective leadership supporting team models that permit ‘high performance’ prevents adverse events and improves surgical outcomes. These leadership skills are not intuitive, but rather are skills that need to be continually learned and practiced.

“Our current resident and postgraduate education programs are focused almost exclusively on surgical science, technology, and technical skills knowledge,” he continued. “Despite this knowledge, half a million adverse surgical events (ASEs) occur every year, costing $10 billion dollars and leading to more than 100,000 deaths. Based on analysis by The Joint Commission, the causes are not due to failures in technology. ASEs are due to failures in team performance based upon inadequate understanding or use of ‘nontechnical’ skills—most commonly, unprofessional behaviors, inadequate leadership, and failures in communication.”

The catalyst for his involvement in patient safety issues, he said, was “recognition about 10 years ago that there had been significant progress in terms of surgical technique and various implants and devices for specific diseases, but it was unclear whether this had impacted outcomes for patients harmed by adverse events.

Dwight W. Burney III, MD, who served with Dr. Robb on the Patient Safety Committee as well as in the Leadership Fellows Program for the past 9 years, noted that Dr. Robb has demonstrated a “commitment to mentorship, team building, teamwork, and ‘bridge-building’ in abundance.”

Dr. Robb is a fifth-generation physician whose father also was an orthopaedic surgeon and leader as Iowa’s representative to the Academy Board of Councilors in the 1970s. He is married to his college sweetheart, Chris, and they have two children and two grandchildren.                          

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