Specialty Profiles

What it's like to be an orthopaedic surgeon: Shadowing Dr. Dangles


As a medical student, do you ever wonder what it’s like to specialize in orthopaedic surgery? Here’s your chance to find out.

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Meet Chris Dangles, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon and featured physician in the AMA “Shadow Me” Specialty Series, which offers advice directly from physicians about life in their specialties.

Read Dr. Dangles’ insights to help determine whether a career in orthopaedic surgery is a good fit for you.


“Shadowing” Dr. Dangles 

Specialty: Orthopaedics with an emphasis on joint reconstruction

Practice setting: Rural health hospital with additional offices in college communities. I became a hospital-employed physician nine months ago after 33 years of being in physician-owned group practices.

A typical week: At age 65, I have reduced my schedule to about 40 hours/week with no E.R. call and about 300 cases per year.

The most challenging aspect of caring for patients in orthopaedic surgery is: Providing care for patients with multiple comorbidities who also require joint replacement, but accomplishing this with a good result is very rewarding.

Three adjectives to describe the typical orthopaedic surgeon: Male (but changing). Meticulous. Demanding.

How my lifestyle matches or differs from what I envisioned in medical school: I have surprised myself by finding a practice environment not as demanding as what I experienced for 25 years and expected as a student. General orthopaedic practice with Level I trauma responsibilities became a chore, but elective joint reconstruction is fun.

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The main skills every physician should have for orthopaedic surgery but won’t be tested for on the board exam: Physical endurance, empathy and the ability to cope with sub-optimal outcomes when they occur. Management skills also will be necessary for success.

One question every physician in training should ask themselves before pursuing orthopaedic surgery: Can I accept the challenges of decreasing reimbursement and increasing demand for joint replacement and still provide excellent quality?

The two books I think every medical student interested in orthopaedic surgery should read are:

• John Charnley: The Man and the Hip by William Waugh

• It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best D*** Ship in the Navy by Michael Abrashoff

• Other management guides since you will need to know how to manage a team in the office and O.R.

If you want to learn more about orthopaedic surgery, I also recommend students follow:

• aahks.org

• aaos.org

Half the dues, all the AMA benefits!

  • Find your perfect match using full features of FREIDA™, the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database®
  • Distinguish yourself with AMA leadership opportunities

Supporting you today as a medical student. Protecting your future as a physician.

One thing students considering orthopaedic surgery and its sub-specialties should remember: Joint reconstruction has become a sub-specialty training after general orthopaedic residency, but there are residency programs that can prepare you properly for a career in joint arthroplasty.