Michael F. Schafer, MD, Honored with Tipton Leadership Award
“Being selected for this award means more to me than I can put into words,” said Michael F. Schafer, MD, recipient of the 2008 Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation’s William W. Tipton Jr., MD Leadership Award. “Bill Tipton and I were interns together and became very close friends. Many years ago, we talked about how we could make a contribution to medicine.”
Each man went on to do just that. Dr. Schafer has gone on to fulfill his dream—making many significant contributions to medicine and orthopaedics throughout his career. At the age of 10, Dr. Schafer was infected with the life-threatening bulbar form of polio. “I had a couple of hospital roommates who didn’t make it. I have always felt there was a reason that things worked out the way they did,” explained Dr. Schafer. “A number of my doctors were orthopaedic surgeons. I knew what I was going to do with my life.”
“To me, it is not enough just to practice medicine and orthopaedic surgery, it is important to give back. I think it’s a charge that all orthopaedists should understand. We have been blessed with abilities—both mentally and physically—to master a specialty. We owe it our patients and others to make sure we make a contribution.”
Dr. Schafer has demonstrated his strong leadership abilities as the Ryerson Professor and longest-serving chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. James A. Hill, MD, a colleague of Dr. Schafer, speaks highly not only of his leadership skills but also of his ability to include all people. “Because of the culture created by Dr. Schafer, the whole department is sensitive to creating opportunities for underrepresented minorities and females so that our department can be reflective of society. He has followed through on his personal commitment without any fanfare or pursuit of accolades.”
Patients of Dr. Schafer—including the many sports figures he has treated through the years—also speak very highly of him. He has been a team physician for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears at various times during his career. Former Chicago Cubs player Scott Sanderson says he could talk for hours about Dr. Schafer. “Prior to my first back surgery and right before spring training, I was spending most of my time on my living room floor, unable to move. One night the phone rang. My wife answered. Mike ‘just happened to call’ to see how things were going — the kind of thing you do as a father; checking in on your kid when he needs your help. In many ways, I feel as close to Mike as I do my father. It all goes to trust and the respect I have for him, which is based on how much he showed he cared about me and my family, about my quality of life on and off the athletic field.”
Dr. Schafer distinguished himself early in his career. In 1968, he won the intern of the year award at Wesley Hospital and the resident of the year award during his first year of orthopaedics training at Evanston Hospital. He pursued a fellowship in spine surgery and scoliosis. “I know that goes right back to the heart of my experiences in the hospital as a child,” he said. “Although I didn’t know what scoliosis was back then, I saw the kids in body casts and wanted to help them.” He has devoted a large portion of his medical career to finding better ways to treat scoliosis. With funding from the March of Dimes, Dr. Schafer and his young family spent a year in Sydney, Australia, in 1972, with Alan F. Dwyer, MD, developing a new scoliosis instrumentation system using an anterior approach to the spine.
In addition to being widely published, Dr. Schafer has volunteered countless hours to AAOS and to his specialty society, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Currently, he serves on the Academy’s communication cabinet and the editorial board of AAOS Now, and has recently been elected to the board of directors. He is actively involved in the Academy’s leadership fellows program—serving as a mentor every year since the program has been in existence.
Annie Hayashi is the senior science writer for AAOS Now. The story, as it appears here, was edited for length. Read the story in its entirety at www.aaos.org/News/acadnews/AAOS12_3-7.asp