10% of Orthopedic Surgeons Miss Work Due To An Occupational Injury

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Manish Sethi, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is enlightening his colleagues about the injuries that can occur in the OR. He and his team set out to determine the prevalence and types of injuries that orthopedic surgeons sustained in the workplace.

Dr. Sethi and his co-authors developed and distributed electronic surveys to every orthopedic surgeon in Tennessee—495 individuals. A total of 140 surveys were returned, with representation from all orthopedic subspecialties. Sixty-one (44%) of the respondents reported sustaining one or more injuries at the workplace. A significant association was found between years performing surgery and prevalence of injury, with surgeons working between 21 and 30 years reporting the most injuries.

Fourteen (10%) of the surgeons reported missing work as a result of an occupational injury, most of which were result of injuries to the hand and the back. Five (4%) missed at least three weeks of work. Twenty-three surgeons (37% of injured respondents) reported that no institutional resources were available to support their recovery from the injury.

The authors believe that their study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that many orthopedic surgeons sustain occupational injuries during their careers. The volume of work missed suggests that occupational injury has economic implications for the health care system and providers.

Dr. Sethi told OTW, “I was surprised to learn that most hospitals really don’t have programs to help physicians injured on the job. I think it would be reasonable if institutions could help surgeons through counseling and basic support.”

Asked why he thought that reporting the injuries to the institution was so low, Dr. Sethi stated, “I think it is because most surgeons feel there is nowhere to report them.”

There was a finding that 38% of the injured surgeons said that this type of pain had at least a minimal impact on their operating room performance. Asked if we know what kind of impact this had, i.e., the surgeon slowed down/changed positions, etc., Dr. Sethi told OTW, “We did not ask this question but it is up to the professional judgment of the physician as to whether he or she feels they can do a case safely. I can’t speak for everyone but the surgeons I know would never put a patient at risk or in harms way.”

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