James Kellam, AO Past President (2004−06): "The AO is a living organization"

By: Vidula Bhoyroo, Project Manager/Medical Writer, AO Education Institute

James Franklin Kellam grew up in Canada, where he did all his studies through medical school to residency and fellowship. He spent a year as a traveling fellow, including time at the AO Research Institute Davos with Stephan Perren and Peter Matter. From 1981 to 1990, he was a full-time orthopedic trauma surgery consultant at Sunnybrook Medical and Trauma Centre in Toronto, Canada. Thereafter, his career path has been in the US, first at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, from 1990 to 2013 and then at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. He currently works as a professor and Associate Orthopedic Residency Program Director at the McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, US.

To mention a few functions at the AO, Kellam was the editor of AO Dialogue, Chairperson of the AO North America Trauma Fellowship Committee (2011−16), and a member of the AO Foundation’s Ethics and Compliance Committee (2014−18). He served as president of the AO Foundation from 2004−06.

We often hear of the AO spirit, can you elaborate?

The AO spirit means people-to-people involvement. From the beginning when a group of surgeons gathered to lead the improvement of fracture care for the world, the AO has emphasized that its strength has been in the interaction of individuals to enhance patient care, research, and education. The epitome of the spirit is seen at courses where expert surgeons meet with students on a one-to-one basis, faculty huddle together to learn from each other, and socially the interaction of families leads to a neighborhood feeling.

How did you hear about the AO?

My first introduction to the AO was as a resident in training, when, in 1974, I attended an AO basic course in Toronto. The course directors were Marvin Tile and Joe Schatzker [both are AO Past Presidents] along with honored faculty including Maurice Müller and Martin Allgöwer [two of the original AO founders].

What role has the AO played in your life, your career as an orthopedic surgeon?

The AO has played a major role in my career as an orthopedic surgeon, educator, researcher, and leader. As a surgeon, I have never forgotten the principles and basic science of fracture care and the management of injured patients. These factors have allowed me to become a competent and successful surgeon, being able to adjust to complex situations and solve clinical problems with confidence. The opportunity to be faculty and participate in all the educational training that the AO provides enhanced my academic career as an educator. I was fortunate to have Stephan Perren as a research mentor. This opportunity established in my career the importance of research and the teaching of others to perform worthwhile studies. The final impact that the AO had on my career was teaching me what leading is all about. The AO provided me with many opportunities to be involved in leading roles which had a profound effect on shaping my career. The "Gemeinschaft" [community] philosophy of the AO as demonstrated by AO leaders, such as Peter Matter, Thomas Rüedi, and Markus Rauh, had a great impact on my leadership style, recognizing the importance of consensus and collaboration.

The AO has also given my family an unbelievable experience. The opportunity to meet and socialize with a diverse group of people from around the world has provided us with many friends and experiences that would never have been possible without the AO. On top of that, our children have had the opportunity to meet many diverse people from surgeons to scientists to the AO personnel. This has had a profound mentoring effect on my family.

This year, 2023, marks the 65-year anniversary of the AO. What has sustained the foundation that long?

The AO is a living organization. Because it respects people and their opinions, those leading the AO at any given time have been willing to adapt and take risks to assure that the organization is adjusting to the times. This attitude has allowed the organization to meet the changing needs of its membership and others to ensure it remains relevant.

And how should we remain relevant in the years to come?

The AO will remain relevant only if it continues to listen to the needs of surgeons and researchers and understands the needs of patient care.

As a Past President, how do you support the AO?

I have continued to be active as a faculty member and senior surgeon to support the AO when asked. The opportunity to participate with the AO Past Presidents in our biannual meetings, I believe has given the AO leaders a sounding board to gauge change.

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