We sat down with Dr. Mitul Patel, orthopedic spine surgeon, about his experience at TriStar Summit Medical Center, and in honor of Father’s Day, what it is like to juggle the roles of both dad and surgeon. Dr. Patel, his wife and two children, Ariana (12) and Ahbi (10), are proud to call Nashville their home. Please welcome our newest FACE of TriStar, Dr. Mitul Patel.
What made you decide to become an orthopedic surgeon?
As I went through medical school, I fairly quickly realized I wanted to do something surgical. I loved working with my hands and the task-oriented nature of surgery. I enjoyed the instant gratification of “fixing” someone through a successful surgery. Also, my dad was a mechanical engineer, and growing up I would be his assistant whenever we would do projects around the house. My dad taught me how to complete a project with perfection by remaining patient and steadfast. I use these attributes every day in the operating room. I believe it was this early experience with mechanical engineering and my interest in surgery and science that led me to orthopedic surgery. After all, orthopedic surgery is basically carpentry on the bones.
I would imagine there’s a sense of gratification in that you’re often giving people their lives back. Is that true?
Absolutely! However, it is a complete team of people that makes a surgery successful. We have an excellent team TriStar Summit in the operating room and in the hospital. Orthopedic surgery is about decreasing pain and allowing people to become mobile again. From knee and hip replacements, to fixing a fracture or removing a disk herniation in the spine, we are able to give people their quality of life back. It is extremely gratifying to take a patient from “the worst pain of my life” to pain-free with a simple surgery. We have also made huge strides in the last few years to be able to do surgery in a much less invasive fashion compared to 20 years ago. This allows for less post-operative pain and quicker recovery.
How much orthopedic trauma do you see at TriStar Summit?
TriStar Summit is one of the busiest emergency rooms in the TriStar Health system. We will likely see upwards of 62,000 patients through the ER in 2018. Over my past 14 years at TriStar Summit, the hospital has become busier year over year. As a consequence, we are seeing higher volumes of orthopedic trauma as well.
What changes have you seen in your field through the years?
Minimally invasive surgery, evidence based medicine and a move towards more outpatient surgeries are the biggest changes. With advances in technology, we are able to perform surgeries with smaller incisions and less disruption of the tissues so that patients have less pain and a quicker recovery. Although robotics is still in its infancy, there are some exciting advances in this arena as well. We are also emphasizing the use of evidence from well designed and well conducted research to help guide our decision making rather than a “gut” feeling or anecdotal evidence. And lastly, as technologies improve and preoperative and postoperative anesthesia protocols are optimized, we are now pushing the envelope on outpatient surgeries. This will decrease health care costs, decrease infection rates and allow the patient to recover in the comfort of their own homes.
How do you juggle your work schedule with spending time with your kids?
Like a successful surgery, this too is a team approach. My wife is a full-time stay-at-home mom. This allows me to work long hours but still be there for baseball games, cheer competitions and night time homework review. For the past five years, I have been an assistant coach for my son’s baseball team. Navigating through Nashville traffic at 4:30 p.m. to get across town for a 5:30 p.m. game is a challenge in and of itself. But I make it my highest priority, and I can’t remember missing more than a game or two over the past five years.
What about when you are on call?
TriStar Summit orthopedic surgeons take about four or five call days a month. So all-in-all, it is not that bad. True emergencies are rare in orthopedic surgery, and most things can be handled the next day. On occasion, you will get that emergent phone call from the ER where you have to drop everything and leave at a moment’s notice. Thankfully those calls are rare. My family has always been understanding and there have been occasions, albeit rare, where we are at dinner and they come with me to the hospital. Sometimes, I even take my kids to the hospital to round with me on the weekends. I think they think it is cool – and the nurses doting on them isn’t all that bad either.
Have your children ever broken a bone?
Not yet, thank God. But my daughter, who is starting competitive cheer as a flyer, will definitely be at risk. Both of my kids participate in children’s cross-fit. I hope the muscles they build and the coordination and balance they learn will allow them to avoid fractures. However, accidents occur, and most pediatric fractures are simple to fix. Kids tend to heal great. My kids still think a cast is cool, so they may not mind getting a cool-colored cast that their friends can sign!
What do your kids think about your profession?
I think they remain somewhat fascinated with what I do. They often ask about cases, especially when we’re treating a child. They often ask, “what bone did they break?”, “how did they break it?” or “how old are they?” I will often show them X-rays and try to explain the anatomy. I think they are a little more careful after seeing what can happen if they jump off the monkey bars or slide into home plate awkwardly. I often joke that they can become orthopedic surgeons and join me in 15 years.
I know some conditions you see may be unavoidable, maybe they are age related, but what advise can you give people to maintain bone health?
Most arthritis is unavoidable. It is often genetic or age-related. However, such things as maintaining an ideal body weight, a well-balanced diet and a regular exercise regimen – which should include aerobic fitness three or four times per week for at least 30 minutes per session – can definitely help folks avoid seeing an orthopedic surgeon. For those people that already have arthritis, participating in non-impact exercises such as water aerobics, use of a stationary bike, rower or elliptical machine, or doing things such as yoga, can help maintain heart health and burn calories without impacting the arthritic joint.
Unfortunately, as a healthcare community, we are probably not treating osteoporosis as aggressively as we should.
Why is that?
Osteoporosis is a tricky diagnosis to treat. It is an asymptomatic disease. This means osteoporosis itself does not hurt. It is simply a thinning of the bone density of the skeleton. People often confuse osteoporosis with osteoarthritis. Osteoporosis alludes to the bone density. Osteoarthritis is a painful condition where a joint becomes painful and stiff because of cartilage loss. When osteoporosis leads to a hip, wrist or spine fracture, it can be very painful. Preventing these fracture is the key. Preventing a second fracture after one has occurred is also as important. Compliance with osteoporosis medications has definitely been an issue over the years. Many of the medications have side effects that patients don’t tolerate. We need to do a better job screening for osteoporosis and educating at-risk patients so they remain compliant with a treatment plan.
Thank you, Dr. Patel, for offering fascinating insight into the work of an orthopedic surgeon. To learn more about orthopedic services offered at TriStar Summit Medical Center, visit TriStarSummit.com.
Thank you to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for the fantastic photos of Dr. Patel.