Roy Sanders, MD is the editor of the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma (JOT).He is also the president of the Florida Orthopaedic Institute, the chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of South Florida, and a past president of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association. In this edition of the OTA Member Spotlight, we talk with Dr. Sanders about how he came to orthopaedics and became editor of one of the leading journals in the field.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into orthopaedics?
I hated everything about medical school. My first two years were just awful. I showed up for the tests, but I also worked full-time with my uncle, doing electrical work. I was seriously considering dropping out and becoming an electrician. I thought maybe I would go into general surgery, but hated that too. Then they made me do a week elective but the only thing they had left was orthopaedics. I remember asking them what that was. The secretary said, ‘Something to do with bones….”
So I showed up, and they were doing a hemiarthroplasty. And sitting there, sterile, on the back table, were all my uncle’s tools: chisels and gouges and screwdrivers and drills. I said, “Wait. I can do this for a living as a doctor? I’m sold.”
I ended up at the Hospital for Joint Diseases. At that time, there was no emergency department; no trauma. I asked the chair, Victor H. Frankel, MD, PhD, if I could find a trauma rotation. One of my co-residents, Brian Zell, MD, told me about Shock Trauma in Baltimore. I went down there as a third-year resident. Andrew R. Burgess, MD, was running the place. I was there for four months, and that completely sold me on trauma. I was like a kid in a candy store. When I graduated, I did a fellowship with Marc Swiontkowski, MD, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He’s the one that got me involved with the AO. I did a Jack McDaniels fellowship with Bernd F. Claudi, MD; Pietro Regazzoni, MD; and Thomas Ruedi, MD. Ultimately, they hired me in Tampa, and the rest is history.
How did you get involved with the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma?
Around the time the OTA was formed, Phillip G. Spiegel, MD, MBA, wanted to the society to have a journal, but funding wasn’t available. Phil went to Raven Press…Kathy Alexander was a publisher there…and she said he could start an independent orthopaedic trauma journal and publish four issues a year. Later, Raven got bought by Lippincott, which got bought by Wolters-Kluwer, which now owns JOT. Phil was the editor from 1986 to 1996. He mentored me in editing and eventually made me an associate editor. When he stepped down, he turned the editorship over to me. I’m still not sure why he chose me, but it turned out to be a 28-year love affair. We took the journal from four issues, to six, to eight, to twelve a year. Publishing 12 issues really made a difference, because as a monthly journal, we saw more and more manuscripts submitted.
Back then, we used these blue cards to track the manuscripts. The authors would mail them in, we’d mail them to the reviewers, they’d mail them back. It was a lot of money for postage and everything took forever. If you dropped the blue card file box, you’d have a thousand of them all over the floor and you’d have to put them back in order. Seriously. In 2003, we moved to Editorial Manager, which everyone uses now. I looked at the stats the other day, and from 2003 to the present, we've dealt with about 15,000 manuscripts. I've rejected over 9,000, but the rest we personally worked on…something like six articles a week. A lot of work. Among the many other things that I do. [laughs]
What were your greatest challenges in growing the journal?
Well, originally it was a second-tier journal, and many of the best manuscripts would get submitted to The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery (JBJS) instead of JOT. I spent 15 years correcting that, and I think now most of the good articles get submitted to JOT first, but it was the other way around for a long time.
One of the things I did…I tried to get a lot of people from the OTA involved in reviewing and editing. I made people section editors in their area of expertise. Both the growth of the OTA and marketing via the OTA helped a great deal in growing the journal. We got where we are today through the help of a lot of different people.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
The Orthopaedic Trauma Service Fellowship at Tampa General Hospital. We’ve had about 140 fellows since 1987, and a lot of them have become leaders in the OTA. I think I've had four OTA presidents come through, and a lot of our people run internationally prominent trauma programs now. They've all left an indelible mark on orthopaedic trauma: writing, designing, teaching, and developing their own fellowships. They’ve raised the bar.
So honestly, that’s what I’m most proud of. I was lucky that so many great fellows came through our program and I was able to share with them a bit of my experience. They obviously had their own skillsets, but they’ve also learned the Tampa way of managing trauma. Those folks carry the torch now. Even when I'm dead and gone, they'll still do it the right way. It’s a pedigree that I'm very, very, proud to be a part of.
How did you find the time to build such a prolific career?
You have to be very efficient with the use of your time. When I was younger, the mantra was that you can sleep when you're dead. I would get four or five hours sleep a night during the week and try to catch up on the weekends. I would work after my kids went to bed. And if you're sitting around waiting for a case to start, instead of socializing, find a place with your laptop and don't waste the time. That's honestly what it takes. If you travel, you’ve got to do twice as much work the week before you leave and twice as much work the week you come back.
Choose your priorities and decide what you really want from your career. If you want to be a clinician, be one. If your passion is academics and become a chair take that path. Or, maybe become an implant designer. I ended up doing everything (crazy, I know), but I don’t think you can do that anymore.
And what is absolutely critical, you have to have a very understanding spouse and family. You have to work together to figure out the particulars.
What do you do when you’re not busy with orthopaedics?
It varies. I used to run marathons, but my back gave out, so I work out a lot. During COVID I started to learn golf, which is probably not a good thing to do in your sixties. It's a really a tough game. [laughs] I swim, I spend time with my family; my grandchildren. I love to travel and really that’s my favorite hobby. I've traveled the world. And I have a multifactorial job which is really just different extensions of orthopaedics, but it consumes my time and it keeps me very interested. Orthopaedics is still probably 65 percent of my day, my week, my year; whether it's teaching, or training, or operating, or managing Florida Orthopaedic institute, or designing implants, or working on the journal…it's all related to being an orthopaedic traumatologist.
You’re still going strong…
Not quite as strong. I’m losing all my hair. [laughs]
Any final advice you’d like to offer younger practitioners?
No matter what you do, you have to have a passion for it. If you don't, it'll become a job, and if it becomes a job, you're going to get bored. You spend your entire youth and into your thirties to become an orthopaedic surgeon, so pick a subspecialty that you absolutely have a passion for that will keep you interested for the next 30 or 40 years.
I spend a lot of time trying to get the residents to pick a fellowship that they enjoy, and to make sure that they make the right decision; even whether they go into academics or private practice: What kind of private practice? What kind of academics? Where will you be living? All those things make a difference, right? And, that's the one thing I try to imbue in them, that they really have to have a passion and enjoy what they're doing so they never see it as a job.