Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD: Today's Ben Casey?

By: Jennie McKee

By Jennie McKee


When he was just 8 years old, AAOS First Vice President Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, already knew he wanted to be a physician. His role model? Hard-nosed Dr. Ben Casey, the main character of the 1960s television medical drama of the same name.

“Ben Casey was a brooding, not very nice surgeon—the opposite of how I think we should be, and how I think I am,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “Nonetheless, there was something about that show that made me want to emulate Ben Casey.”

Dr. Zuckerman’s interest in the fictional physician served as the catalyst for a career in orthopaedics marked by excellence and leadership. When he assumes the presidency of the AAOS in 2009, Dr. Zuckerman plans to put a special emphasis on improving day-to-day practice life for AAOS members through Academy practice management initiatives and help focus the Academy’s efforts on issues such as orthopaedic education and advocacy.

Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD

Orthopaedic mentors
Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., Dr. Zuckerman played high school basketball and sustained several injuries that introduced him to the field of orthopaedics and piqued his interest in the musculoskeletal system. After earning an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and entering the Medical College of Wisconsin, another injury—a scaphoid nonunion—led him to his first orthopaedic mentor, Paul A. Jacobs, MD.

“Not only did Dr. Jacobs take care of my wrist, but we became great friends throughout my time in medical school,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “Dr.Jacobs, who is originally from New York, did his training at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, where I ultimately ended up working.”

During Dr. Zuckerman’s orthopaedic residency training at the University of Washington, he quickly found three more important mentors: Frederick A. Matsen, III, MD; Robert A. Winquist, MD; and Victor H. Frankel, MD.

“My residency at the University of Washington was an outstanding experience,” remembers Dr. Zuckerman. “Dr. Matsen was instrumental in developing my early interest in the shoulder, and Dr. Winquist showed me how to effectively integrate clinical experience with research and educational endeavors.” Adds Dr. Zuckerman, “Dr. Frankel, who was the chairman of the department at the University of Washington, left midway through my residency and went to the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, where he recruited me to join him when I finished my training.”

Following residency training, Dr. Zuckerman completed a clinical and research fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“One of my biggest influences during my fellowship in Boston and in my career was former AAOS President Clement Sledge, MD,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “He was an excellent role model as an academic orthopaedic surgeon. When I was a fellow, he had just become AAOS second vice president. He was very active in the Academy, which gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what it was like to be involved.”

As a visiting clinician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Dr. Zuckerman also had the opportunity to work with Robert H. Cofield, MD. Dr. Cofield, one of the top shoulder surgeons in the world, helped solidify Dr. Zuckerman’s focus on the shoulder.

Interest in research
Thus far in his career, Dr. Zuckerman has served as the co-author or editor of at least a dozen orthopaedic textbooks and as collaborator on more than 250 scientific articles. “Early on, I realized that research gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about specific areas and add something to our knowledge. I knew that was something that I wanted to spend a lot more of my time doing.” Dr. Frankel advised Dr. Zuckerman to focus his research efforts on hip fractures in the elderly. “Dr. Frankel was absolutely right to steer me in that direction. The problem of hip fractures in the elderly—and geriatric orthopaedics, in general—proved to be a critical, developing area in orthopaedics. My collaborator at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, Kenneth J. Koval, MD, and I were able to make a lot of important contributions to the area.”

Professional accomplishments
Dr. Zuckerman is the Walter A.L. Thompson professor of orthopaedic surgery and chair of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases department of orthopaedic surgery. From 1990 to 2006, he served as the residency program director at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. He also served as president of the Medical Board at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he is chief of the orthopaedic surgery service.

A nationally renowned expert on shoulder surgery and hip, knee, and shoulder replacement, Dr. Zuckerman performs approximately 300 operations a year. He served as president of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons from 2003–2004.

Following in the footsteps of Dr. Sledge, Dr. Zuckerman began his involvement with AAOS on the Subcommittee for Hip and Knee Evaluation in 1985.He was then elected to the AAOS Board of Directors as a member-at-large in 1992.Since then, he has served as chair of the Surgical Skills Committee and as chair of the Council on Education.

Academy’s goals
“The challenging healthcare environment is making the practice of orthopaedic surgery more difficult,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “I think the Academy needs to play an increasing and expanding role in making what I consider the ‘quality of practice life’ better for our members.”

Dr. Zuckerman also believes it’s crucial to make strides in key areas such as orthopaedic education and advocacy.

“Education is the foundation upon which the Academy was built,” notes Dr. Zuckerman. “Orthopaedic surgeons will always be able to look to the Academy for education, because it will always be one of our highest priorities.”

“Advocacy efforts are also critically important,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “We have to be actively involved in dialogue about legislative issues such as pay-for-performance and Medicare changes to ensure that our viewpoints and needs are understood.”