A Conversation with Vern Tolo, MD

Tolo_Vernon_1791Vernon Tolo, MD, JBJS Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, provided outstanding editorial stewardship for The Journal during the last four years. In this interview, he explains what the experience has meant to him.

JBJS: As you transition out of the role of Editor-in-Chief at JBJS, what will you miss the most?

Dr. Tolo: There are a few things I will miss. One is the opportunity to work with a great group of Deputy Editors, whose work is essential and so important to the Editor. I will miss the JBJS staff, who are all talented professionals and who provided great support to me during my time as Editor.  And I will miss seeing the latest in research reports, often months before publication occurs.  The time I spent as Editor were some of the most exciting and rewarding years of my orthopaedic career… a true privilege to be able to carry forward the tradition of JBJS.  Nonetheless, I will not miss the relentless assignment of manuscripts which required nightly connection to my computer….but I still had a great time.

JBJS: When you first joined JBJS, what surprised you the most about The Journal or about journal publishing in general?

Dr. Tolo: I had known primarily about the editorial side of journal publishing from my years being a JBJS Deputy Editor. What surprised me the most when I became Editor was how little I knew about trends in medical publishing and the challenges facing journals such as JBJS in today’s publishing world. Being involved in meeting these challenges has stimulated me to think about problems and challenges that I otherwise would not have considered.

JBJS: As JBJS celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, how would you describe the impact of The Journal on orthopaedics?

Dr. Tolo: The Journal has had a tremendous impact on orthopaedics. For the first 100 years, JBJS was the primary written source of orthopaedic education for all orthopaedic surgeons in North America. Articles published in JBJS were the source of a large percentage of questions in the Board examinations for years.  Even after the explosion of educational sources in the past 25 years, The Journal still holds a pre-eminent position for quality, trusted research reports that affect day-to-day patient care.

JBJS: How do you think JBJS can best support orthopaedics going forward?

Dr. Tolo: We need to continue to be the trusted source for new orthopaedic knowledge that improves patient care. The multiple journals that the JBJS family has developed over the past few years have really broadened the choices available to orthopaedists, as has the option for webinars throughout the year.

JBJS: What trends in orthopaedics are you most intrigued by?

Dr. Tolo: I am not sure “intrigued” is the right word, but I am concerned about the ongoing tendency for super-specialization within our profession. Despite having exposure to and training for the treatment of a wide variety of orthopaedic conditions during residency, orthopaedists are increasingly claiming they are inadequately trained to treat a wide variety of orthopaedic conditions, particularly once they have completed a fellowship in a subspecialty. For example, pediatric orthopaedists may feel uncomfortable treating hand or pelvic fractures. Sports medicine orthopaedists will often not get involved with treatments outside their fellowship training.  And it goes on with many other examples.  This situation only seems to be increasing.  The ongoing challenge is how to adjust training programs to allow for appropriate broad-based training opportunities and still allow residents to focus on the subspecialty in which they will eventually practice.

The trend over the past several years of orthopaedics being a specialty selected by more medical students than there are residency openings will likely continue.  We are still the most underrepresented surgical specialty for women in training programs and on faculties.  While some progress has been made in this area, we need to increase the number of women in orthopaedics.

JBJS: Looking ahead to the next 20 years or so, what do you think might be three significant advances or changes in orthopaedics?

Dr. Tolo: The changes in orthopaedics have been so dramatic in the past 20 years that it is a challenge for me to predict how our profession will look in 2034. I think medical schools will finally include education in musculoskeletal disorders commensurate with the percentage of patients with these conditions who are seen by primary care physicians. Robotic surgery, currently so common in surgical specialties that deal with soft tissue disorders, may soon be ready for orthopaedic use, but that will be a decade or more from now.  Biologics will be used more often, particularly in settings to decrease the onset of articular cartilage damage after ACL injury or intraarticular fractures, and this would be a major advance.  It may be that a “bone glue” may supplant casts as a fracture treatment.  Whatever advances occur, JBJS is where they should be published.

JBJS: What is your favorite thing about your profession?

Dr. Tolo: No question….it is helping patients get better. I am fortunate to have worked in pediatric orthopaedics my entire career. All children want to get better, and the ability to play a part in helping advance the health of children has been extremely rewarding for me.  I still love going to work every day, and the grateful feedback that I receive almost daily from families is incredible. There are few other professions or vocations that provide this benefit.

JBJS: What are you looking forward to most as you make this transition?

Dr. Tolo: Once I have dealt with my withdrawal symptoms from my time at JBJS, I will increase my clinical outpatient and operative activity at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, mainly in spinal deformity, skeletal dysplasia, and cerebral palsy, though probably a bit less than 100% full time. I look forward to spending quality time with my wife Charlene, who has put up with a sometimes crazy schedule for 49 years of marriage, and to getting my golf handicap down to the low teens.  It will be difficult for me to break away completely from orthopaedics, which has provided me with an incredibly satisfying career and multiple opportunities to contribute to our profession globally, through a number of societies/associations–and through JBJS.

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