Jason Calhoun, MD, FACS
by Sandra Gurvis
When Jason Calhoun, MD, FACS, was approached in 2008 to head up Ohio State’s Department of Orthopaedics, he was at a point in his career when others might consider winding down. During his four-year tenure as J. Vernon Luck Sr. Distinguished Professor and chair in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Missouri, he expanded the program from three to 23 faculty, quadrupled revenue and saw a tremendous increase in grants and research publications. Prior to that, from 1986-2003, he rose from assistant professor to professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. He accomplished many of the same things there, helping grow the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery into a full-fledged department and was also chief physician executive of the $300 million Correctional Managed Care Program, which provides medical services to prisoners.
“Although I was comfortable at Missouri, the situation at Ohio State was too tempting to resist,” recalls Calhoun, who also holds The Frank J. Kloenne Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery. “While oncology, trauma and sports medicine were strong here, the other clinical, education and research areas needed shoring up. There was a pressing need for faculty in hand, joint, spine, and foot and ankle among other specialties,” and a heavy reliance on adjunct faculty for various services. “Orthopaedics is a major area for patient care, and the goal was to bring it to the same level of excellence as the rest of the Medical Center and the University.”
Calhoun wasted no time digging in; even before his official start date of January 1, 2009, he was developing relationships and pulling in resources. In less than two years, the number of faculty has risen from 16 to 36; in four years, the residency
program has grown from 29 to 39 (including two fellows).
Interdisciplinary efforts with Family Medicine and Plastic Surgery have resulted in new centers in sports medicine and in hand and upper extremity. Faculty in several disciplines have been recruited to join Ohio State’s Spine Center with plans to recruit for foot and ankle, adult reconstruction, trauma, oncology and infection. In 2010, peer-reviewed publications almost tripled in a six-month period from the year prior – 64 as opposed to 23 – and sponsored funding, including grants and expenditures, increased sixfold, from $218,488 in fiscal 2008 to $1.2 million in the first half of fiscal 2010, but the numbers tell only part of the story.
“Some people are strong in certain areas, and the trick is placing them where their talents fit best and giving them what they need to be successful,” Calhoun continues. There are new directors in hand, foot and ankle, spine and adult reconstruction; Michael Ruff, MD; Ian Alexander MD; Ronald Wisneski, MD; and Andrew Glassman, MD, respectively. Internal promotions were made for directors of trauma, oncology, shoulder and podiatry: Laura Phieffer, MD; Joel Mayerson, MD; Julie Bishop, MD; and Erik Monson, DPM, respectively. “These are physicians at the top of their fields,” he adds.
Calhoun noted that adult reconstruction for osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, avascular necrosis and cartilage injury, which in the past included joint replacement, will soon be revolutionized by minimal incision arthroscopic surgery for cartilage and joint repair, and will use robotics for partial joint replacements of the knee and hip and soon the shoulder and ankle. “This is not only becoming more of an outpatient procedure, but reduces recovery time to a few days, rather than several weeks.”
A research residency and sports medicine fellowships are already in place with plans for fellowships in other subspecialties, including a recently approved hand fellowship.
The revamped education program also includes a new residency program director, an assistant program director for resident research who will coordinate mentors along with providing guidance for projects, grant applications and publications. Another assistant program director for resident education will work with faculty and help develop course offerings.
“With baby boomers getting older and more people being active longer, there has been an explosion in the need for orthopaedic care,” Calhoun adds. Along with a steady increase in surgeries (20 percent) and patients, the department has also seen a continuous rise in patient satisfaction to almost 92 percent in outpatient care.
Calhoun studies and analyzes the methods and performance of other institutions and serves on several Ohio State and national steering committees and advisory panels. “We can learn a lot about how to do things better by asking questions and comparing techniques.”
The recent hiring of both a director of publications and a director of grants has reaped results in both areas. Nearly half of the recent publications were co-authored by residents, and the Department’s ramped-up efforts are helping to secure funding from the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and other industry and nonprofit sources.
Calhoun’s own project on the evaluation and treatment of drug-resistant bacteria in war wounds from soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan has garnered more than $1.6 million in active grants and multiple other grants have been submitted.
Building From the Ground Up
Calhoun’s ability to “construct” departments and programs likely comes from his early training. Prior to receiving his medical degree from the University of Louisville Medical School, he obtained a master’s degree in electrical engineering, also from the University of Louisville (with a BA from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.).
The marriage of engineering and medicine has also shown itself in Calhoun’s patents of a biodegradable antibiotic implant, antibiotic combinations to treat surgical infections and pending patents for several other biomechanical devices.
As with any good blueprint, there’s room for expansion, from additional clinics and operating rooms to increased research, recruitment and educational efforts. “Our goal is to become one of the top 10 orthopaedic departments in the United States, and Ohio State provides the ideal setting for this. There’s a real energy here, an atmosphere of collaboration that allows you to create and share a vision.”