January 01, 2000
7 min read

AAOS led orthopedic specialty’s educational efforts

Since 1931, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has been instrumental in uniting the orthopedic community and steering its evolution.

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The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) was chartered on Oct. 11, 1931, to provide a national forum for steadily increasing numbers of orthopedic surgeons in the United States.

The original purposes of the academy, which were published in January 1934, included:

  • the advancement of the principles and practice of the science of orthopedic surgery from every viewpoint, and to improve teaching of orthopedic surgery from the standpoint of theory and practice;
  • the certification or qualification of orthopedic specialists and the assistance of younger orthopedic surgeons;
  • the standardization of orthopedic nomenclature, orthopedic techniques and orthopedic literature;
  • the advancement of the subjects of bone tumors, osteomyelitis, fractures, poliomyelitis, congenital defects, nutritional disorders and traumatic conditions;
  • to take an interest in and address legislation which affect orthopedic surgeons, take an interest in veterans’ problems, and further the ethical publicity of orthopedic matters;
  • to further the relationship and cooperation among orthopedic surgeons and other specialists, including the roentgenologist; internist; ear, nose and throat specialist; urologist; radiologist; dental surgeon; gynecologist and obstetrician; and
  • to serve as a link between the American Orthopedic Association (AOA), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

Concerns of the orthopedic specialty

6300 North River Road — The current headquarters of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in Rosemont, Ill. A new Hyatt Hotel is located next door.

In 1933, there were 59 recognized established departments of orthopedic surgery in U.S. medical schools. Orthopedic surgery was described as a functional rather than anatomical branch of general surgery and general medicine. The AOA defined the chief concerns of the specialty through a survey of those departments as the prevention of deformity; the maintenance of function that may be threatened by defects, lesions and diseases of the bony skeleton and locomotory systems; and the restoration of function that has been impaired by these same defects, lesions and diseases. Furthermore, the AOA defined “orthopedic concerns” as conditions that fall within the purview of orthopedic surgery (e.g., the defects, lesions and diseases affecting the bones, joints, bursae, muscles and tendons and their associated vascular, nervous and sometimes visceral mechanisms).

Those original purposes and specialty description served to guide the growth of the academy and orthopedic specialty for the past 70 years. As such, the AAOS eventually grew to become the largest orthopedic organization in the world. Some of the most important accomplishments and contributions the academy has made over the past century are listed below.


Fathered by the AOA and the Central States Orthopedic Club (now the Clinical Orthopedic Society), the AAOS committed its resources initially to the development of a single educational program for the fellowship: the annual AAOS meeting. The academy held its inaugural meeting in Chicago on Jan. 12-14, 1933, as a joint meeting with the 20th annual meeting of the Clinical Orthopedic Society, with E.W. Ryerson, MD, as president.

The development of the annual meeting would become the cornerstone around which later academy education programs would develop. Working with the AMA and the AOA, the academy also assisted in the development of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS), chartered in 1934, to assist in the qualification and certification of the new specialty.

Through administrative support and financial contributions, the academy also helped launch the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 1935. By 1935, the academy had become the largest orthopedic specialty organization in the United States, boasting a membership of 506 fellows. In 1937, an audit of the AAOS reported a balance of $2502. In 1939, the academy assisted in the development of more standardized criteria for orthopedic surgery residency programs to improve the quality of educational programming during residency.


World War II dominated the early 1940s as orthopedic resources were primarily devoted to the war effort. At the Ninth Annual AAOS Meeting in 1942, academy officials introduced instructional course lectures for the first time. This addition to the annual meeting program was very successful and would become a standard part of all subsequent annual meeting programs.

In 1944, an audit of the AAOS reported a balance of $14,769. After the war, in 1948, the academy established its first staffed central office at 122 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. In 1950, the Kappa Delta national sorority sponsored the first Kappa Delta Award, presented at the annual meeting for most outstanding orthopedic research. This award remains a regular part of the annual meeting program and is the most recognized award for orthopedic research.


The postwar years were a period of rapid growth for the orthopedic community as a surgical specialty, as an industry and as a specialty organization. By 1951, an audit showed a balance of $56,100 in the academy treasury. In 1954, the academy assisted in the establishment of the Orthopedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) which would subsequently grow to become the most successful specialty research foundation in the United States.


By 1962, academy membership had grown to 3000 fellows. Consequently, the AAOS became the first specialty organization to develop continuing medical education (CME) courses, which would grow to become an important ongoing part of academy educational programming. In 1964, the academy developed and administered the first Orthopedic In-Training Examination (OITE).

In 1968, the academy supported the development of the Orthopedic Residency Matching Program. In 1969, the academy developed and administered the first Orthopedic Self-Assessment Examination (OSAE). During this decade, the annual meeting program grew to become the most successful annual meeting program among all specialty organizations, and the format of scientific papers, instructional courses and industry exhibits continues today.


In 1970, the academy wrote and published the first edition of Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured. This text, its subsequent editions and others would lead to the establishment of the academy publications department and return an investment to the AAOS that was sufficient to support many other important non-revenue-producing activities and programs.

The following year, the academy was instrumental in the development of many affiliate organizations which recognized the growing subspecialization within the specialty, including the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS), the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), the Association of Orthopaedic Chairmen (AOC) and the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS).

In 1972, to better manage and direct the many programs within the academy, the AAOS underwent a complete reorganization, including the establishment of a board of directors to lead the organization that had been previously lead by a smaller executive committee. Also established was an advisory council to the board of directors representing the membership, the board of councilors. The board of councilors was empowered to appoint the academy’s first executive director, Dr. Charles Heck. In 1975, the academy developed and established the Summer Institute Program featuring a broad educational program that included psychomotor skill labs. In 1979, the academy established its first administrative office in Washington to help deal with the increasing government involvement in health care financing and delivery.


By 1983, membership in the academy had grown to 10,790 fellows. Overall academy activities including education, publication and subspecialty society support had outgrown the rented office space in 444 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, and in 1983, the academy purchased its first building in Park Ridge, Ill. to serve as a national headquarters for orthopedics. To further support unity among organizations in the orthopedic family, the academy formed the Council of Musculoskeletal Specialty Societies in 1985 and invited all affiliate subspecialty societies to participate.

The next year, with the federal government’s growing impact on orthopedic care and research, the academy leadership helped establish a National Institutes of Health center for musculoskeletal research, known as the National Institute for Allergy, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

To impact growing national congressional health programs including Medicare, the academy purchased an office in Washington in 1987 and established the annual National Orthopedic Leadership Conference, allowing orthopedic leaders to participate directly in the legislative process. Recognizing the changing character of medical practices and the increasing need for public awareness, in 1989, the academy initiated a national public education program featuring musculoskeletal injury and disease prevention.


By 1990, the academy and the subspecialty societies had outgrown the Park Ridge headquarters. To maintain unity and support growth of needed specialty programs, the academy purchased its current headquarters in Rosemont, Ill. at 6300 N. River Road.

Next, the AAOS turned its attention to responding to the proposed Clinton health care reform proposal and a growing managed care industry. The academy was instrumental in the formation of a broad medical consumer coalition, the Patient Access to Specialty Care Coalition, which articulated the basic principles of health care consumer rights represented in most current state and federal legislation.

In 1993, in collaboration with the Arthroscopy Association of North America, the academy developed the Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC) to serve as a national center for surgical psychomotor skill development and education. The academy’s education and annual meeting programs attracted growing international participation, and in 1997, the AAOS established the international membership program.

To accommodate future successful growth of the many academy programs, a strategic reorganization of the academy was initiated in 1998 to establish two parallel AAOS organizations. First was the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, which would continue to operate with a continuing primary focus on orthopedic education. Second, was the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, which would now serve to address health policy and advocacy issues.

In 1999, the Hyatt Corp. opened a new Hyatt Hotel adjacent to 6300 N. River Road to support integrated and interactive programs with the OLC as well as support many organizational orthopedic programs. As of 1999, membership in the new parallel AAOS organizations includes 14,978 active fellows with an annual budget of $33 million.

Finally, a new Council on Communications was established recognizing the demand for more patient involvement in their health care decisions. This council will develop the content of a patient and public education program with the primary focus of strengthening the patient-physician relationship.


New AAOS programs in the first decade of the 21st century will focus on:

  • the development of a strong Internet program for patients, members and the public;
  • continued dedication to the development of cutting-edge CME programs using technology to provide “just-in-time” educational content and an even stronger commitment to musculoskeletal research through the development of evidence-based data;
  • a program promoting active volunteerism that is both nationally and internationally reflective of the orthopedic community; and
  • a commitment to improve musculoskeletal health and education through increased public awareness of the importance and impact of musculoskeletal diseases and injuries by emphasizing the international Decade of the Bone and Joint effort.

The 21st century

The 21st century will be filled with new challenges and opportunities for the orthopedic community. The AAOS is prepared to meet these challenges with a continuing commitment to provide both the leadership and the broad organizational resources needed to insure that the successes of orthopedics in the 20th century continues into the next millennium.

This commitment is embodied in the mission statement of the unified AAOS 2000 Strategic Plan: “The mutual mission of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons is to promote, through education, research and communication, the highest quality musculoskeletal health and the interests of musculoskeletal patients and the profession of orthopedic surgery.”


William J. Robb III, MD, is assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and is secretary of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.