We often chide our orthopedic surgeons for their supposedly inferior intellects. After all, it doesn't appear that it would take too many brain cells to wield a hammer or direct a power drill. There are plenty of jokes about the half-witted orthopods: How does an internist keep elevator doors from closing shut--she uses her arm to stop the doors. How does a general surgeon stop the doors--he uses his foot. How does an orthopedic surgeon stop the doors--he uses his head. Then there is the viral video from a couple of years ago, Orthopedics vs. Anesthesia, that pretty much encapsulated our experiences with our orthopedic colleagues.
But how much of this belittling of the orthopods is justified? Surprisingly there is a study that looked into this very topic. An anesthesia colleague of mine passed along this paper that was published in BMJ.com (formerly British Medical Journal) from two years ago. Written by orthopedic surgeons, it attempts to put to rest the notion that orthopods are nothing more than big lumbering steroidal idiots.
Thirty-six orthopedic surgeons at three British hospitals voluntarily subjected themselves to a Mensa intelligence exam along with a hand grip test to measure their physical strengths. Forty male anesthetists (their terminology) volunteered to do the same. Female anesthetists were excluded because the researchers couldn't find enough female orthopedic surgeons for comparison. A formal IQ test was not performed due to its complexity. Therefore the results are not directly comparable to a real IQ test and the numbers do not reflect the test takers' IQ.
The results showed that the surgeons scored slightly higher than the anesthetists on the intelligence test, with a mean of 105.19 vs. 98.38. The orthopod researchers condescendingly expressed astonishment with the test scores by noting that anesthetists were frequently seen working on crossword and Sudoku puzzles. As for physical strength, it's no surprise that the surgeons won easily. It doesn't take a lot of hand strength to hold a pencil to complete my crossword puzzles.
Surprised by the study's conclusions? Perhaps we shouldn't be. Orthopedics is one of the most competitive residencies to attain. No longer is it the last bastion of college jocks who weren't quite good enough to make it onto the varsity football team. It takes a lot of smarts for an orthopedic residency program to even consider a candidate. Having said that, in the paper's scatter gram of test scores, there is one anesthetist who scored only 60 on the exam. I wonder how much this one individual skewed the results since there were so few participants to begin with.
So next time you think about using monosyllabic words to communicate with your orthopedic surgeons, remember that he maybe hiding his brilliant acumen behind a humble facade. Or maybe not.