Schafer sets the right example

By Sharon Johnson

2008 Tipton Leadership Award winner practices what he preaches

When it comes to teaching ethics and professionalism, according to Michael F. Schafer, MD, there is no substitute for a strong role model. Dr. Schafer, the 2008 William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award honoree, addressed the issue during yesterday’s Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) Order of Merit Recognition Luncheon.

Although he has extensive professional credentials, Dr. Schafer began to form his views on ethics and professionalism in childhood.

Michael F. Schafer, MD

“In many ways,” he said, “it was the exemplary professional behavior of a couple of physicians toward me as a 10-year-old child with polio that actually attracted me to medicine.”

Dr. Schafer also credited mentors and colleagues with teaching him the importance of professionalism as a component of leadership. He specifically acknowledged Clinton L. Compere, MD; Reginald R. Cooper, MD; David G. Murray, MD; Ignacio V. Ponseti, MD; and Howard J. Sweeney, MD. In addition, Dr. Schafer remembered Dr. Tipton and their decades-long conversations on how they would each find a way to make a lasting contribution to orthopaedics.

Developing strategies

Today, said Dr. Schafer stated that professionalism crosses multiple occupations, and gave examples in relation to the law, the military, and other branches of medicine.

The AAOS has developed resources such as “Ethical Issues in Orthopaedic Surgery” and the “Cultural Competency Challenge.” Such programs gain traction with residents when they are used by respected faculty to fuel discu`ssions that involve peers and attending mentors. Equipping residents as true professionals, said Dr. Schafer, requires persistency and intervention, when necessary.

A lifelong process

What happens after residency? Dr. Schafer’s message was clear: Across all settings—academic, clinical, research laboratory, or some combination—every established orthopaedic surgeon has an ongoing responsibility to set a professional example for younger colleagues.

“How we as role models approach a difficult patient, or end-of-life decisions, or the complex relationships we have with industry has a substantially larger impact than any type of case study, vignette, or discussion group that might be offered for didactic learning. And learning, didactic and otherwise, goes on throughout one’s career,” he said.

“Think of your mentors and how you looked up to them, and followed their lead. Now it’s our turn to set the example,” concluded Dr. Schafer.

The Order of Merit Recognition Luncheon acknowledges individuals who have supported current research and education projects through OREF’s Annual Campaign at the silver ($1,000 or more), gold ($2,500 or more), or platinum ($5,000 or more) Order of Merit Level for 10 or more years. For the fifth consecutive year, the luncheon was supported by an educational grant from Pfizer Inc.