Some of these subspecialties seem minor or even trivial; that is, until you have that particular ailment or injury.

 


Magazine
Fall/Winter 1999

Dr. K. Donald Shelbourne '72
orthopedic surgeon, NFL Indianapolis Colts team doctor

What is the most significant event that has occurred in your profession or field of study during the 20th century?

There's an old joke that says “a doctor can either be a generalist who knows less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything; or a specialist who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.” But the division of the practice of medicine into specialties and sub-specialties has dramatically improved patient's recovery from injury and disease.

In the 1920s and 30s, every doctor was a physician and a surgeon. Then doctors became either medical doctors or surgeons. Then surgery split into general surgery and other specialties.

When I was training, for example, orthopedic surgery was a relatively new specialty, and it has since split into even more focused subspecialties. Some of these subspecialties seem minor or even trivial; that is, until you have that particular ailment or injury. Without this specialization, the techniques used—and the outlook for our patients—would not have improved so dramatically or so rapidly.

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