Historical Look Back on the Department of Orthopaedics at Emory University

The orthopaedic section did not become a division of surgery at Emory until after World War II.  Before that time, it had been an integral part of general surgery where the physicians interested in orthopedics were particularly focused on trauma care.

Emory’s Department of Orthopaedics has been led and shaped by four former chairmen.

Kelly

Robert P. Kelly, M.D.

Chief Division of Orthopaedics, Department of Surgery

1946-1974

Dr. Kelly was recruited by Dr. Daniel C. Elkin, Chief of Surgery at Emory. Upon being appointed Chief of Orthopaedics, Dr. Kelly immediately began working to develop a residency program in orthopaedics, which up to that time had been non-existent.  The residency program began with one resident per year and gradually grew to two residents per year and in the 1950’s expanded to three residents per year.  As the residency program developed, Dr. Kelly also expanded the number of faculty members to include seven full time orthopedists.  Toward the end of his tenure at Emory, Dr. Kelly suffered an unfortunate cardiac incident that decreased his ability to continue practicing.  He never completely recovered and his death was a tragic loss to the department and the university.

Whitesides

Thomas E. Whitesides, Jr., M.D.

Chief Division of Orthopaedics, Chairman Department of Orthopaedics

1974-1981

Dr. Whitesides, a student under Dr. Kelly, was encouraged by Dr. Kelly to prepare for a career in academic medicine. Dr. Whitesides heeded this advice and returned to Emory after completing his training at Washington University.  His entire career as a distinguished academic orthopaedic surgeon was spent at Emory.   Among his many professional accomplishments, Dr. Whitesides served as a member of the Board of Directors of the ABOS and also received the Kappa Delta Award for Outstanding Basic Science Research from the AAOS.  It was Dr. Whitesides’ vision that Emory Orthopaedics be a Department in the School of Medicine rather than a division of the General Surgery Department.  He was the driving force behind Orthopaedics achieving departmental status at Emory.  Dr. Whitesides was appointed chief of the division of orthopaedics in 1972 and later became the first chair man when Emory granted departmental status to Orthopaedics in 1979.  Dr. Whitesides is now retired but is still active in basic science research, presents at Grand Rounds, and is regularly consulted about complex cases.

Riggins

Richard S. Riggins, M.D.

Chairman Department of Orthopaedics

1981-1987

Dr. Riggins came to Emory as the Orthopaedic Department Chairman from The University of California at Davis.  After serving as Department Chair for 6 years, he returned to California to a private practice in San Louis Obispo. 

Fleming

Lamar L. Fleming, M.D.

Chairman Department of Orthopaedics

1987-2002

After residency training at Duke, Dr. Fleming was recruited to the Emory Orthopaedics faculty by Dr. Whitesides.  He spent his entire career at Emory.  He was instrumental in founding the Kelly Society and served as an officer for multiple prestigious academic society groups.  Under his leadership as Chairman the size and scope of the faculty increased dramatically.

Roberson

James R. Roberson, M.D.

Chairman Department of Orthopaedics

2002 – Present

Dr. Roberson, in his general surgery internship at the time, was recruited by Dr. Whitesides to join the orthopaedic residency program. Dr. Roberson completed his residency in orthopaedics and went on to a fellowship in adult reconstruction at the Mayo Clinic.  Dr. Roberson has served as Associate Medical Director of Emory University Hospital, member of the Board of Directors of The Emory Clinic, and currently is a Director on the ABOS Board of Directors.  He was appointed Department Chair and Robert P. Kelly Professor in 2002.