Commentary

Richard H. Rothman, MD, PhD: Leadership, mentorship legacy lives forever

Orthopedics lost a preeminent leader when Richard H. Rothman, MD, PhD, died on Oct. 21. He was one of the most well-known surgeons in the world, frequently invited to share his thoughts and expertise worldwide.

Placing patients at the center of the health care delivery model was crucial to the decisions he made throughout the meteoric rise of Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. His vision allowed him and his team, including CEO Mike West and president Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD, PhD, MBA, to navigate a highly competitive environment in the Philadelphia area, resulting in a group with more than 200 physicians who do more than 14,000 total joint replacements per year, in addition to providing medical care for the major professional sports teams in Philadelphia, as well as many colleges and high schools. Additionally, Rothman Orthopaedic Institute continually receives top honors and national rankings.

Anthony A. Romeo, MD
Anthony A. Romeo

Rothman set up methods to monitor and ensure physicians provided the care patients desired. Patient satisfaction scores assessed clinical skills. Benchmarking surgical outcomes and complications among the group allowed detection of correctable variances. The team was expected to participate in academic efforts, research and education to push their knowledge to the top of their peer group. Leadership opportunities within the organization, as well as collaborative organizations, were strongly supported. He led by example.

My wife, Kate, and I met him for the first time on his 81st birthday in December 2017. We were well-aware of his reputation as a fantastic surgeon, teacher, researcher, innovator, inventor and unmatched expert in the development of an orthopedic private practice. We were excited and nervous to meet such an accomplished person who was interested in sharing his vision for Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. That day, we fell in love with a man who was kind, thoughtful, committed to his family and passionate about the leadership roles physicians have in shaping the future of musculoskeletal health care. We shared with him a strong belief that physician leadership at all levels of the health care system was the key ingredient to solve the illnesses of the current system.

Six months after that meeting, I accepted the position of chief of orthopaedics at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in New York. The vision shared by Rothman was confirmed by Vaccaro and senior leadership, as well as by the support provided to develop a musculoskeletal health care delivery system in New York based on the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute model.

A key to the success of the enterprise was the mentorship provided by Rothman. During the next 6 months and until he died, I learned firsthand why people from all walks of life admired and cherished their time with him.

The public aspect of Rothman’s life has been well-documented. However, his private life is where one truly develops an appreciation for how special he was to many people. At our first meeting, he spoke about his love for his wife, Marsha, and how much of what he has done benefitted directly from her support, intellect, challenges and advice. He could not imagine his life without her. He was so happy my wife and I were together at our meeting, allowing him to impress upon us how fortunate I was to have Kate’s support and love, which would be a source of tremendous strength throughout our lives, as he found with Marsha and his family.

He loved his children and grandchildren, shared stories about their lives. He developed Rothman Orthopaedic Institute as if it was his extended family, with personal relationships and interests among the partners, administrative leaders and staff, OR staff, as well as the many fellows, residents and medical students who spent time with him.

His style of negotiation and persuasion regarding the business aspects of musculoskeletal care was based on learning about the other people in the process, so he could understand their goals and expectations, as well as their core personalities and abilities to resolve conflict. He was available to many as an advisor, collaborator and friend, even those who did not necessarily have the same beliefs or opinions. He lived by the expression “Relationships equal results.”

In one of the last presentations I heard from Rothman titled “How to live to 100,” he spoke about the importance of the key social determinants of health and how diet, exercise and healthy relationships are essential to long-term well-being. Unfortunately, he did not make it to his 100th birthday, but his legacy of leadership, mentorship, prioritizing family and coworkers, and caring about others, including his patients, will live on forever. I am so thankful I had the past 6 months to share with him. Like many others, I wish I had more time to be with him.

Disclosure: Romeo reports he receives royalties, is on the speakers bureau, is a consultant and does contracted research for Arthrex; receives institutional grants from MLB; and receives institutional research support from Arthrex, Ossur, Smith & Nephew, ConMed Linvatec, Athletico and Wright Medical.

Orthopedics lost a preeminent leader when Richard H. Rothman, MD, PhD, died on Oct. 21. He was one of the most well-known surgeons in the world, frequently invited to share his thoughts and expertise worldwide.

Placing patients at the center of the health care delivery model was crucial to the decisions he made throughout the meteoric rise of Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. His vision allowed him and his team, including CEO Mike West and president Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD, PhD, MBA, to navigate a highly competitive environment in the Philadelphia area, resulting in a group with more than 200 physicians who do more than 14,000 total joint replacements per year, in addition to providing medical care for the major professional sports teams in Philadelphia, as well as many colleges and high schools. Additionally, Rothman Orthopaedic Institute continually receives top honors and national rankings.

Anthony A. Romeo, MD
Anthony A. Romeo

Rothman set up methods to monitor and ensure physicians provided the care patients desired. Patient satisfaction scores assessed clinical skills. Benchmarking surgical outcomes and complications among the group allowed detection of correctable variances. The team was expected to participate in academic efforts, research and education to push their knowledge to the top of their peer group. Leadership opportunities within the organization, as well as collaborative organizations, were strongly supported. He led by example.

My wife, Kate, and I met him for the first time on his 81st birthday in December 2017. We were well-aware of his reputation as a fantastic surgeon, teacher, researcher, innovator, inventor and unmatched expert in the development of an orthopedic private practice. We were excited and nervous to meet such an accomplished person who was interested in sharing his vision for Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. That day, we fell in love with a man who was kind, thoughtful, committed to his family and passionate about the leadership roles physicians have in shaping the future of musculoskeletal health care. We shared with him a strong belief that physician leadership at all levels of the health care system was the key ingredient to solve the illnesses of the current system.

Six months after that meeting, I accepted the position of chief of orthopaedics at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in New York. The vision shared by Rothman was confirmed by Vaccaro and senior leadership, as well as by the support provided to develop a musculoskeletal health care delivery system in New York based on the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute model.

A key to the success of the enterprise was the mentorship provided by Rothman. During the next 6 months and until he died, I learned firsthand why people from all walks of life admired and cherished their time with him.

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The public aspect of Rothman’s life has been well-documented. However, his private life is where one truly develops an appreciation for how special he was to many people. At our first meeting, he spoke about his love for his wife, Marsha, and how much of what he has done benefitted directly from her support, intellect, challenges and advice. He could not imagine his life without her. He was so happy my wife and I were together at our meeting, allowing him to impress upon us how fortunate I was to have Kate’s support and love, which would be a source of tremendous strength throughout our lives, as he found with Marsha and his family.

He loved his children and grandchildren, shared stories about their lives. He developed Rothman Orthopaedic Institute as if it was his extended family, with personal relationships and interests among the partners, administrative leaders and staff, OR staff, as well as the many fellows, residents and medical students who spent time with him.

His style of negotiation and persuasion regarding the business aspects of musculoskeletal care was based on learning about the other people in the process, so he could understand their goals and expectations, as well as their core personalities and abilities to resolve conflict. He was available to many as an advisor, collaborator and friend, even those who did not necessarily have the same beliefs or opinions. He lived by the expression “Relationships equal results.”

In one of the last presentations I heard from Rothman titled “How to live to 100,” he spoke about the importance of the key social determinants of health and how diet, exercise and healthy relationships are essential to long-term well-being. Unfortunately, he did not make it to his 100th birthday, but his legacy of leadership, mentorship, prioritizing family and coworkers, and caring about others, including his patients, will live on forever. I am so thankful I had the past 6 months to share with him. Like many others, I wish I had more time to be with him.

Disclosure: Romeo reports he receives royalties, is on the speakers bureau, is a consultant and does contracted research for Arthrex; receives institutional grants from MLB; and receives institutional research support from Arthrex, Ossur, Smith & Nephew, ConMed Linvatec, Athletico and Wright Medical.

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