October 20, 2016

Dr. Michael Vitale, Pediatric Orthopedics, featured in the Columbia Orthopedics Newsletter – ISSUE 10

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Get to know the faculty —

Dr. Michael Vitale, Pediatric Orthopedics:

Do you have a role model or mentor and if so, who?

I have been fortunate to have many role models. Very early, my father, a still-practicing pediatric orthopedic surgeon, modeled for me the potential to help others through this profession. Sometime later, Dr. David Roye exposed me to the great stimulation and promise that comes with a successful career in academic medicine.  And Dr. Vernon Tolo, my fellowship mentor, taught me how we can have even more impact through leadership and national governance in our profession.

When you have spare time, what do you like to do?

“Spare time” is probably not the right word for it!  Outside of work, my priority is spending time with my wife and 4 boys.  Weekends are really about getting deep with the kids.  I like to run (have done the NYC marathon and half marathon lots), do triathlons, read a lot, have a passion for wine, cooking, skiing, and I love travel.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

We have done a lot of work that focused on trying to make spine surgery safer for patients.  We have published several papers looking at best practices to avoid infection as well as how to best respond to intraoperative neuromonitoring changes.  I probably get a call or email every few weeks with someone sharing an anecdote about how that work helped them and their patients.

What part of your job is most fulfilling?

Easy.  Nothing compares with being able to help a child with a terrible problem have a better life.  I see my mission as allowing kids under my care to live their dreams.  Everything else in my career-research, teaching, quality efforts, administration, national governance—is constructed around this mission.

What made you choose this profession?

Exposure obtained through role modeling showed me how special a career in Pediatric Orthopedics can be. Pediatric orthopedics provides an incredible mix of deep satisfaction which comes from relationships with kids and families, and the technical satisfaction which comes from careful attention to execution of craft.  Orthopedics literally means “straight child” so I really was just following directions by choosing a profession where I get to do just that!

Can you talk a little about the important roles your colleagues and team play here at Columbia Orthopedics?

This is a team sport.  Sometimes, I am the coach, sometimes forward and sometimes goalie, but success of our enterprise is entirely about a well-functioning team.  We have a ridiculously good team at every level.  Every minute spent getting our team to work better pays off several fold.  It’s easy to take for granted how amazing the people are that surround us all at this Medical Center.  The depth of expertise that we have here allows us to take care of kids from all around the world with some very serious problems.

What’s your secret to effectively juggling your time?

I think a lot about balance.  It’s a constant challenge and as such, it needs constant attention.  The reality is that there is not enought time to accomplish everything we need and want to do. Here are some things I have found helpful.  1).  Try to overlap as much as possible the various silos that compete for your time (family, work, community, self) rather than make choices among them.  Running with your kids, for example, allows you not to have to make a difficult choice between family and self.  2).  It’s a big challenge to stay creative and thoughtful, and I think we all need to find some protected time for strategy and planning. Schedule time for “Deep Work” outside the routine.  3).  Finally, we define ourselves as much by the things we don’t do as by those we do.  We need to be selective in our commitments, and only take on those things that allow us to build on our goals and ultimate mission.  “Leading the Life Your Want,” “Essentialism,” and “Deep Work,” are some books which have helped me with balance.  Finally, I think it’s critical to be able to oscillate between intense work and intense play.

Any last words for your team at Columbia Orthopedics?

It’s easy to see the imperfections in a big organization, in a big medical center and in a big city.  The truth is that we are part of a much bigger organism working towards a much bigger goal: exceptional patient care.  Seen from the ground, it often looks like we are just “moving around bricks.”  The reality is that all those coordinated movements combine and allow the building of a cathedral.  That’s the power of team.

—Dr. Michael Vitale, Pediatric Orthopedics


See Dr. Vitale’s Full Bio >