John S. Kirkpatrick M.D.: Football injury starts him down road to orthopaedic surgery

By Matt Galnor
July 2012

Like many doctors, the road to a career in medicine for John S. Kirkpatrick M.D., got its foundation in high school.

But for Kirkpatrick, now a professor and chair of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville, it wasn’t a specific moment in the classroom that inspired him.

It was on the football field.

Kirkpatrick broke his femur playing football in the ninth grade, damaging his growth plate and ending his playing days. Kirkpatrick underwent a series of experimental surgeries to lengthen the femur and was the first case in a study at UCLA, near where he grew up.

The surgeon became a mentor to Kirkpatrick and the experience led him to cross the country and pursue an engineering degree at Duke University. During the summers, Kirkpatrick would come back to UCLA to work in the doctor’s lab. He learned he enjoyed the patient side more than the engineering, and found that the two blend well together in orthopaedic surgery. Kirkpatrick said he was encouraged by another mentor to look into working with the spine and thought it was a specialty that would be emerging and changing as his career progressed.

After graduating with an engineering degree from Duke, Kirkpatrick went to Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston Salem, N.C., graduating in 1985. He returned to Duke for his residency and then spent a yearlong orthopaedic surgery fellowship at Case Western University in Cleveland, focusing on the spine.

From there, he went to Birmingham, where Kirkpatrick held a variety of roles at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He was an assistant professor of engineering and a professor of orthopaedic surgery, director of resident education for orthopaedics, along with medical appointments that included chief of orthopaedic surgery at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Birmingham.

Kirkpatrick left in 2006 to come to Jacksonville for “the opportunity to help develop others as a team.”

Kirkpatrick is committing his own personal resources by donating back to a research and education fund in the department.

Because of various financial formulas, the department receives about one-third less revenue per case than competing academic orthopaedic programs. Money to support the educational side traditionally came from patient care revenues. That model, Kirkpatrick said, is no longer sustainable with reduced reimbursements.

The department, which recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its orthopaedic surgery residency, is growing by expanding its practice at the UF Bone and Joint Center at Emerson Medical Plaza, but still relies on philanthropy to tie everything together.

The money Kirkpatrick donated has gone to a variety of projects, assisting with research and buying textbooks. Various alumni have helped the department through the years, paying for the magnifying operating glasses for residents. A pair with a prescription can run up to $2,000, Kirkpatrick said.

“I want to see the department succeed and it has to have support to succeed,” Kirkpatrick said. “After 50 years, we don’t want to see the program struggle.”

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