Michael J. Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., named 2013 Tipton Leadership Award recipient

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Mayo Clinic orthopedic researcher and surgeon Michael J. Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., received the 8th annual William W. Tipton Jr., M.D. Leadership Award at the annual meeting in March 2013 of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) in Chicago.

Dr. Yaszemski is a member of Mayo Clinic Department of Orthopedic Surgery's spine surgery division, where he served as division chair for 10 years. He also is a renowned researcher, directing the Department of Orthopedic Surgery's Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory.

Dr. Yaszemski retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in February 2013 after 34 years of service, having attained the rank of brigadier general in 2008. General Yaszemski's last assignment prior to his retirement was as the reserve military adviser to the president of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. He has been deployed on five occasions to Afghanistan, Iraq and other sites of conflict in southwest Asia over the past decade as adviser to the Air Force surgeon general on issues pertaining to wartime injuries, deployed medical personnel organization and critical care air transportation. He served as an orthopedic trauma surgeon and deputy commander of the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, Iraq in 2006.

About the Tipton Award

Members of AAOS and the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) established the award to honor the late orthopedic surgeon, William W. Tipton Jr., M.D., a former AAOS leader known for his untiring efforts to build coalitions and effect change. He died in 2005 of hereditary liver disease. The aim of the memorial is to recognize individuals who both contribute to and continue his exemplary leadership in orthopedics. The award carries a $5,000 stipend to further leadership initiatives in the field, which Dr. Yaszemski dedicated to OREF initiatives.

Collegial praise

Daniel J. Berry, M.D., chair of the Mayo Clinic Department of Orthopedic Surgery, praises Dr. Yaszemski's focus and ability to inspire team work. "Mike is a man who has strong beliefs about the value of hard work, as well as the value of achievement. He also is a man who is unfailingly kind and polite to everyone around him, and that helps him to get everybody working together." Always committed to furthering the field, Dr. Yaszemski encourages orthopedic specialists to continue their excellent work — and to raise awareness of it so people understand the field's important contributions to public health.

AAOS president and chairman of Chicago's Rush Medical College Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Joshua J. Jacobs, M.D., praised Dr. Yaszemski's mentorship and strong sense of personal mission. "He is a role model who is dedicated to helping others. His selfless attitude is an inspiration to all of us in the orthopedic profession and the academy is proud to present him with this award."

Call to action

To actively honor receiving the William W. Tipton, Jr. Leadership Award, Dr. Yaszemski encourages orthopedic specialists to take two actions to support orthopedics:

  • First, exceed. Keep providing the excellent care that we provide to our patients. This is the cornerstone of what we do. Keep doing the research, the education of the next generation of orthopedists and the service that makes us who we are and able to provide this outstanding care to patients.
  • Second, advocate. Whenever you get an opportunity, tell people what orthopedic surgeons do, because people may not know all the things that we do, day in and day out, that improve their life and function.

Philosophy of leadership

Deeply grateful for the award, Dr. Yaszemski sees it as the product of a team effort growing out of his many collaborations across the continuum of care. He describes his philosophy of leadership this way: "I believe in people and (that) given the right situation, if you will, the right leadership, and a team to be a part of, most people are proud to excel and do a good job." The ability to follow is a critical component of leadership, he believes. "Leadership, from my perspective, starts with followership. When we are leaders, we are leaders for some things. They are time limited. We do them for a while and then we go away from them. The rest of the time we have to be good followers, and it is that experience as a follower that really guides what one is to do when one is in a leadership position, from my perspective."

Born in Nanticoke, Pa., Dr. Yaszemski received his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemical engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1977 and 1978. He received his M.D. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., in 1983 and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., in 1995. He did his residency in orthopedic surgery at Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and completed his fellowship in spine surgery with Augustus A. White, M.D., Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School. In 1979 Dr. Yaszemski joined the U.S. Air Force Ready Reserve, serving on active duty from 1983-1996.

Sources of motivation

A personal experience with a life-threatening condition deepened his commitment to work to save others' lives, notes David Wayne Polly Jr., M.D., the University of Minnesota orthopedic surgeon who was among those who nominated Dr. Yaszemski for the award. "Mike was very ill at one point in time and nearly died. He was administered the last rites in the intensive care unit at Mayo for a bleed in his head and he recovered, and he's just about completely recovered & Mike is nearly unflappable now. And his story about this is, once you've had the last rites administered to you, any other problem you encounter doesn't seem so bad. And so he just has this wonderful sense of perspective."

Dr. Yaszemski says he is motivated by the people he encounters and works with, "be they family, friends, patients, colleagues, folks who are either wanting to help others or folks who themselves are in need. And being part of a team that can offer some help to them from a medical perspective, I think, is the thing that makes me want to keep doing it."

Key contributions

Among the seminal contributions Dr. Yaszemski has made to orthopedics that the award committee considered in naming him the 2013 Tipton Leadership Award recipient are his roles as:

  • Active contributor, AAOS as chair of the Orthopedic Device Forum, 2006-2012
  • Groundbreaking researcher, continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1994 and leading the way in research studies for both bone regeneration via tissue engineering technologies and sarcoma research
  • Minnesota representative, AAOS Board of Councilors 2008-2014
  • Member, AAOS Committee on Outside Interests
  • Mentor to more than 100 graduates, master's and doctoral degree students, medical students, residents, clinical fellows and postdoctoral fellows, of whom more than 40 percent are women
  • First nonminority member of the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society