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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1995, Vol.15, No.3
Faculty remembered: Frank E. Stinchfield 1910 - 1992

Chairman of orthopedic surgery and director of the New York Orthopedic Hospital from 1956 to 1976, Frank Stinchfield made a powerful impact on CPMC and on American orthopedics. A distinguished surgeon, he exerted his major influence through the force of h is personality and the intelligent focus of his superabundant energy

By Nicholas P. Christy'51

This series features profiles of former faculty members at P&S. The author of the series is a 1951 P&S graduate and former professor of medicine. He is now special lecturer in medicine and writer-in-residence at P&S. orn in a small Minnesota town, Frank Stinchfield learned by age 12 that he wanted to be a bone doctor. He spent his first 26 years in the Midwest, attending Carleton College, the University of North Dakota, and Northwestern University Medical School, taki ng two years of surgical residency in Chicago. Wishing to study with famous orthopedists in the East, Dr. Stinchfield did a year of residency on Presbyterian Hospital's fracture service. There, his seniors judged him talented but seriously lacking in brea dth of experience, so they gave him a traveling fellowship enabling him to study with orthopedic pioneers in Europe. In 1937 and 1938 he was exposed to new ideas and techniques in the clinics of Watson-Jones and Platt, among others, with emphasis on the h ip and shoulder and on joint replacement methods. Next, he worked in Chicago with Paul Magnuson (1938-40) then moved to New York, where he took up posts at New York Orthopedic Hospital, the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled, and Goldwater Hospital a nd opened a private practice.

When World War II broke out, he immediately joined the Army Medical Corps, serving brilliantly from 1942 to 1946. At the U.S. Army Field Hospital in Oxford and leading group and field and station hospitals in European war zones and caring for prisoners du ring the liberation of Buchenwald, he encountered horrifying injuries. The Army awarded Dr. Stinchfield many medals and citations and, on discharge, he had attained the rank of colonel as orthopedic consultant to the surgeon general of the Allied forces i n Europe.

Back in New York, he was appointed, within 10 years, chairman of orthopedics at Columbia and director of New York Orthopedic Hospital, posts he held for 20 years. His crowning surgical achievement came in 1968 when he introduced Sir John Charnley's techni que of hip replacement to New York. Not content to rest on that, Dr. Stinchfield continued laboratory and clinical studies aimed at refining hip replacement methods and founded-in 1969 and 1975, respectively-a national and an international hip society. Hi s eclectic practice was not limited to the hip; his other main interest was back pain, and his various papers dealt with arthrodesis of the knee and ankle, spinal fusion, wound infections, anticoagulation and bone repair, and fractures. Not primarily a sc ientist, Dr. Stinchfield chose judiciously what subjects needed study; his extraordinary talents as a delegator and organizer enabled him, with collaborators, to produce 70 articles over an unusually long scholarly career: 1947 to 1986.

Honorary member of prestigious foreign societies, recipient of honorary degrees, president of every considerable orthopedic association in the United States, doctor to kings, adviser to presidents (Truman and Reagan), Dr. Stinchfield became in 1976 the fi rst orthopedist in the history of the American College of Surgeons to be elected its president.

At CPMC Dr. Stinchfield's qualities of leadership made him president of Presbyterian Hospital's Medical Board, a hospital trustee, and winner of P&S's Distinguished Service Award. Within the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, he had little need to build an organization, having inherited from his predecessor, Alan DeForest Smith, a strong unit embodying research strength, superb surgeon-teachers, and a noteworthy esprit. He skillfully engineered one functionally essential but politically difficult change: f usion of the fracture and orthopedic services. His staff responded enthusiastically to his considerate, good-humored administration. To medical students, this positive atmosphere was palpable.

At Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Stinchfield's chief contribution was in house staff training. He was a gifted teacher in the operating room and outside it. His residents so revered him that they formed a Frank Stinchfield Society, which is still active. Sev en of his graduates hold chairmanships of orthopedics; one is a dean. At one time, a third of practicing American orthopedists had benefited from his postgraduate courses.

Frank Stinchfield had a magical personality; he was the kind of doctor who made everyone feel better simply by entering a room. This bright, beneficent spirit is his principle legacy to P&S.

The writer acknowledges help from the Health Sciences Library staff; Marie DePeri, formerly assistant to the P&S Editor; Ray Schwartz, librarian in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery; source information found in articles by Dr. Harold M. Dick, chairm an of orthopedic surgery, and Dr. Nas S. Eftekhar, professor of orthopedic surgery; and Dr. Alexander Garcia, the Stinchfield Professor Emeritus of Orthopedic Surgery and Dr. Stinchfield's immediate successor as chairman, who provided time, advice, and un ique recollections of Dr. Stinchfield and of departmental history.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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