Career Choices

John Heiner, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery

Brain Surgery
Atom Sarkar
David Moxness
Procedure Solutions Specialist
Compound Machines
Eric Westervelt
Electrical Engineer
Ray Morrow
Exhibit Engineer
Teresa Brusadin
Welding Engineer
Crash Scene
Alexia Fountain
Mechanical Engineering Student
Ed Conkel
Emergency Medical Technician
Trooper Fred J. Cook
Crash Scene Reconstruction
Matthew A. Wolfe
Highway Safety Specialist
Kim Bigelow
Engineering Professor
Hip Surgery
Wilma Gillis
Chief Clinical Anesthetist
John Heiner
Professor of Orthopedic Surgery
Pat Johnson
Medical Assistant
Shawn Knock
Surgical Technician
Karen Myung
Orthopedic Surgery Resident
Pat Schubert
R.N. Team Leader, Orthopedics
Richard Illgen
Orthopedic Surgeon
Carolyn Steinhorst
Nurse Clinician
Eric Stormoen
Unit Coordinator, Orthopedics
Szymon Wozniczka
Physical Therapist
Knee Surgery
Leanne Turner
Orthopedic Prosthetic Engineer
Dr. Joel Politi
Orthopedic Surgeon
Jan Augenstein
Physician Assistant
Ed Lafollette
Registered Nurse
Jeremy Daughtery
Clinical Manager Neurosurgery and Orthopedics
Sickle Cell DNA
Andre Palmer
Chemical Engineer
Matt Pastore
Genetic Counselor
Rick Toracinta
Research Associate
Ben Gelber
On-Air Meteorologist
John Heiner, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery


Northwestern School of Medicine, Graduated 1979
University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital, Internship and Orthopedic Residency
University Hospital Case Western Reserve University – 1-year fellowship

Career Description

In most cases, a patient with severe hip pain will first go to see a primary care, or family, doctor.  The primary doctor might take an x-ray and will often start the patient on some type of pain relieving, anti-arthritic medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen.   S/he might also send the patient to see a physical therapist.  If you are a patient with early arthritis of the hip, this might be all that is required to make you comfortable and allow you to resume your activities.  However, if your symptoms keep getting worse, and the pain becomes severe, an orthopedic surgeon might need to become involved in your care. 

My job as an orthopedic surgeon is to try and get people back to where they are pain free and can perform the functions that make their lives enjoyable.  Sometimes this requires changes in the medications and physical therapy.  Other times, it involves an operation, such as a partial hip replacement, some type of resurfacing hip replacement, or a total hip replacement. Worldwide, the most common operation performed for this problem is a total hip replacement. 

To become an orthopedic surgeon, a doctor goes on to train for approximately 5 to 6 years after medical school.  As a result, most orthopedic surgeons do not start practice until they are 31 or 32 years old.  A typical week for me involves 2 to 3 days of surgery and 2 days in the office.  I’m also ‘on call’ to handle emergency cases such as fractures and other injuries suffered in car accidents.  And, as a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I teach medical students and supervise orthopedic residents. The residents and I meet regularly to discuss cases and review the current orthopedic literature.

While I am in the office, I see patients and evaluate them for various problems.  I treat quite a few patients with joint pain.  Many of them have problems in both the hips and knees.  I try to see what I can do to make them feel better.  A typical work day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends between 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm, except on those days when I have emergency cases. Then I might well end up operating in the evening. This is all part of an orthopedic surgeon’s day. 

The great thing about orthopedics is that everyone loves doing it.  I work with an outstanding team of surgical partners and support personnel.  My job is great.  I work very hard and have long hours, but I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing patients return to a pain free life. Within weeks of surgery, many patients will say that they can’t believe that they can do a lot of the same activities that they had been unable to perform for 5 to 10 years. 

In addition to joint replacements, there are many other specialties within the practice of orthopedics, including tumor orthopedics, pediatrics, sports medicine and back surgery.  There are a lot of new and interesting things happening in these areas, as well as in joint replacement.  Each involves a different approach to the patient but the goal is always the same:  we want to make it possible for a patient to live a comfortable and productive life.  Here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, we do cartilage research, total joint research, spine research and sports medicine research.

Researchers are investigating how to make better joint implants for people who have arthritic joints.  We have had a number of studies over the years looking at different types of hip replacements and various kinds of bone transplantation in order to improve the outcome of certain types of very complicated hip and tumor surgery. 

Some of the research going on in sports medicine is in reconstructing ligaments and tendons to try to let people be more active in certain types of sports.  Most sports teams have an orthopedic surgeon on the sidelines to evaluate the players directly on the field.  Rather than sending the injured player to the hospital, the orthopedic surgeon can immediately perform an exam and determine the severity of the injury.

In joint replacement, I customize the selection of biomaterials (metals, plastics and ceramics) for each patient.  And, in hip replacements, I typically use a technique known as minimally invasive joint replacement, which allows patients to get up and walk on the same day as surgery.  The patients rehab very quickly and the final result is that patients are usually pain free and really appreciate what has been done for them

If researchers ever cure arthritis, joint replacements could become unnecessary.  The bad news is that arthritis seems to be a part of aging that many people cannot escape.  The good news is that in the last 30 years, joint replacements have provided one of the greatest improvements in the quality of life in arthritic patients.  I think there is still a lot of research to be done in orthopedics and joint replacement.  The best is probably yet to come.