Mark Vrahas, MD is the Chief of Partners Orthopaedic Trauma Service and Vice Chairman of the MGH Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
In March 2014, Harvard Medical School welcomed the Harvard Medical School Orthopedic Trauma Initiative as part of an elite group of twenty-two Institutes, Centers, Divisions and Initiatives. We are proud to be part of this group and our new name is reflected in our updated masthead. The primary purpose of this Initiative is to foster collaboration amongst the orthopedic trauma services at all four Harvard Teaching Hospitals in Boston: Mass General, Children’s, Brigham and Women’s, and Beth Israel Deaconess. This effort (and a long effort it was) formalizes our dedication to ensuring excellent educational opportunities in musculoskeletal trauma for HMS students, our HCORP Residents, and Fellows in the Harvard Orthopedic Trauma Fellowship Program. As a group, our trauma surgeons will work together to develop clinical pathways, collaborate on clinical research, and be – in large part because of our size – the premier research center nationally and internationally.
Many of you have likely already recognized us as Harvard Orthopedic Trauma and may be surprised that we are just now achieving this distinction. Those familiar with the Harvard system are aware that Harvard Medical School does not own any hospitals or run any clinical departments. All clinical education takes place at affiliated hospitals with Beth Israel, Brigham and Women’s, Children’s, and Mass General the most prominent. It is no secret that all these hospitals are fiercely competitive. Even Mass General and Brigham – the founding members of Partners Healthcare – infrequently cooperate in clinical practice. It is also uncommon for specialists from the different Harvard hospitals to collaborate in research.
The Orthopedic Trauma Services at these four institutions have been different. Over the past 15 years, each of the affiliated hospitals has developed a robust orthopedic trauma program. Early in this development, the orthopedic trauma surgeons at these hospitals decided that there was greater utility in cooperating than competing. Thus, we have coordinated our educational efforts, combined clinical protocols, and initiated multiple clinical studies. We even occasionally cover one another clinically. It is further not unusual for any of us to email the group for advice about difficult cases. Moreover, we have always considered ourselves Harvard Orthopedic Trauma. This said, we have lacked both the official designation and the title.
Harvard does not allow clinical departments or divisions to claim the Harvard name for good reason. As an example, the Sports Medicine program at one of the hospitals cannot claim to be “Harvard Sports Medicine” because there are sports medicine programs at each of the affiliated hospitals. Similarly, there is no Harvard Chief of Orthopedic Surgery or even a Harvard Chief of Arthroplasty. Surgeons at each of the hospitals are members of the Harvard faculty, and all can claim Harvard affiliation but none can claim their program to be the “Harvard Program.” This is something Harvard rigorously enforces. We thus wanted to achieve official recognition in order for us to continue our mission in an official capacity.
Once we decided to move forward with achieving this official designation, it took many years of meetings, drafting and re-drafting our proposed by-laws, and submitting our application under Harvard’s processes for recognition. Once Harvard was ready to proceed under its new structure, the newly-established committee interviewed us. A few weeks after that we received disappointing news that they did not feel we would contribute anything unique. Fortunately, after more hard work, we were able to point out that clinicians collaborating across Harvard hospitals was, in its own right, incredibly unique if not unprecedented. Ultimately, the committee approved our request and we were officially recognized by the Dean of the Medical School as “Harvard Medical School Orthopedic Trauma Initiative.”
We owe much to the Chairmen at the four large Harvard-affiliated hospitals. Each has been very supportive of the orthopedic trauma programs and faculty at his hospital, and they have always encouraged our collaborations. There is no way we could have done any of this work without their full-fledged support and encouragement.
So what is the Harvard Medical School Orthopedic Trauma Initiative? Our Initiative is an organization composed of clinicians and researchers dedicated to advancing the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries through research, education and clinical cooperation. The primary criterion for joining the group is an interest in musculoskeletal trauma. While orthopedic trauma surgeons and researchers will likely be most interested in joining the group, membership is not restricted to these specialists. Physicians and researchers from other subspecialties within orthopedics, and other medical and surgical specialties from any of the Harvard-affiliated hospitals are also welcome. There are also membership opportunities for alumni, medical students and residents. In short, our goal is to be inclusive.
We have already embarked on several initiatives. We have collaborated to develop orthopedic learning objectives for residents and medical students to make them consistent across hospitals. We coordinate Grand Rounds speakers to avoid duplicating efforts and to ensure that each hospital’s trauma surgeons can benefit from our guests. As a group, we meet monthly to review ongoing research and plan upcoming projects, and we have an annual Harvard Orthopedic Trauma Research Day. We proudly present at meetings under one name – Harvard Orthopedic Trauma.
After a long wait we are busy organizing the Initiative’s details. Our aim is to develop an inclusive, robust and productive collaboration. As this issue goes to press, we have just begun our membership drive. We hope you will consider joining us.