In January, Thomas Parker Vail, M.D., became the chair of the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. One of the nation's top orthopaedic surgeons, Vail comes to UCSF from a successful career at Duke University, where he was professor of orthopaedic surgery at Duke University and director of adult reconstructive surgery at Duke University Medical Center. He was also medical director of the Musculoskeletal Clinical Service Unit of Duke University Health System and a member of the graduate faculty at the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences.
Vail's charge at UCSF is to oversee all of the department's clinical, research and education activities. He is working with both School of Medicine and UCSF Medical Center leadership to develop a new orthopaedics institute that will increase the department's clinical capacity while integrating related research and training activities.
Vail had an early interest in orthopaedic surgery: In grade school, he broke his leg while playing soccer. His first serious interest in orthopaedics as a career came much later, while studying engineering at Duke University.
"In the Failures Analysis class, we looked at the mechanism of failure of orthopaedic implants," Vail says. "We looked at how they were designed and what caused them to fail."
Finding that the engineering applications that interested him most were the ones that had to do with people, Vail enrolled in the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago. "I became fascinated with the biomechanics of motion — how the human musculoskeletal system works," Vail says.
After earning a medical degree in 1985, Vail returned to Duke to do his orthopaedic residency and fellowship in adult reconstructive surgery. "My fellowship was a customized fellowship that allowed me to visit institutions around the world and see a variety of approaches to the problems that interested me," Vail says. "I was able to fill my personal idea file, and over the years, those experiences have proved extremely valuable."
He joined the faculty of Duke University Medical Center in 1992 as assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. He was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and to professor in 2005. As a clinical scientist, Vail has focused his research on innovative arthroplasty design and technique, clinical outcomes in adult reconstruction, and cartilage injury and repair.
In addition to his extensive work at Duke, Vail has been a national leader in orthopaedics, serving on numerous professional committees and being inducted into various scholarly societies, including the Knee Society, Hip Society, Association for Arthritic Hip and Knee Surgery, American Orthopaedic Association and Interurban Orthopaedic Society.
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