History of the Western Orthopaedic Association

The written history of the Western Orthopaedic Association (WOA) was first recorded in 1976 by its then-President, Thomas Taber, MD of Phoenix, Arizona. In Dr. Taber’s notes from 1994, he abstracted information from two previous WOA Presidents – Steele Stewart, MD of Honolulu (President in 1934) and Merril Mensor, MD of San Francisco (President in 1948).

The WOA was officially incorporated in 1932, however orthopaedic surgeons in Los Angeles and San Francisco were meeting as early as 1922. The Los Angeles Orthopedic Club was organized in 1922, and in 1923 there was a joint meeting of orthopaedists from the two cities.

Some of the early names in the Los Angeles Orthopedic Club included Charles Leroy Lowman (President in 1936), Ellis W. Jones Sr., Halbert Chancel, Alfred Gallant (President in 1947), Steele Stewart, John Dunlap (President in 1939) and John Wilson Sr. In San Francisco, the names included James Watkins (first President of the WOA in 1933), Walter Baldwin, Howard Markel (President in 1948), Leonard Ely, Arthur Fisher, Thomas Stoddard, Edward Bull, Jack Haas and James McChesney.

In a lecture on the history of the WOA given by Dr. Steele Stewart at the 1967 Annual Meeting, he indicated that he and Howard Markel spoke of the possibility of a Western Orthopaedic Association while they were on the SS Maui as it sailed toward the Golden Gate.

During the early history of orthopaedic surgery, there were no organized training programs, and as such preceptorships were common. Board certification did not begin until the formation of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) in 1933.

The Western Orthopaedic Association became the first orthopaedic society west of the Mississippi River. The other orthopaedic groups at that time were the American Orthopaedic Association formed in 1888, the Clinical Orthopaedic Society (which started as the Central States Orthopaedic Club in 1912 and became the COS in 1923), and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), founded in 1933.

The WOA was initially proposed in 1929 between the clubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the Constitutional Committee was appointed consisting of Drs. Howard Markel, Thomas Stoddard, Charles Lowman and Steele Stewart. The constitution originally provided for three geographic sections: Northern (British Columbia, Washington and Oregon), Central (Northern California, Nevada and Utah), and Southern (Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii). It was decided to hold the Annual Meetings in rotation (early meetings were rotated between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with one in Yosemite in 1951). 

James Watkins of San Francisco became President at the first meeting held in San Francisco, in 1933. The initial efforts were to accrue further membership and additional chapters. Seattle became the next chapter in 1937, where Roger Anderson was elected President. Chapters that followed over the next five decades included Arizona, Gulf Coast, Hawaii, Idaho, Los Angeles, Los Padres, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern California, North Texas, Orange County, Oregon, Panhandle HiPlanes, Puget Sound, Rocky Mountain, Sacramento Valley, San Diego, Sequoia, South Texas, Spokane, Utah, Western Slope and Wyoming. Most chapters have evolved into state orthopaedic organizations, however some of the chapters remain active and function as entities independent from the WOA, such as in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

The meeting sites continue to rotate between California, Hawaii and a venue in one of the other 14 member states. The meeting format initially was a combination of a Scientific Program combined with social functions, and this format has remained consistent to date.

Some highlights of the early presidential line include:

1933: Dr. Watkins, the first WOA President, studied orthopaedic surgery in various European centers for three years working with Drs. Hoffa, Lange and Lorenz. He married Eleanor Fairman Preston from Virginia, who herself was a recent medical graduate. Dr. Watkins was the City Health Officer in San Francisco from 1907 to 1910.

1934: The second WOA President was Steele Stewart, MD, from Honolulu. He was the Chief Surgeon at Shriners Hospital until 1946, and was involved in a controversy over fee scheduling for doctors on the island of Oahu. The state of California heard about this endeavor and became the first state to utilize a relative value scale. Hawaii followed thereafter.

1936: Fourth WOA President Charles Lowman, MD was the founder of the Orthopaedic Hospital in Los Angeles. He was a recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died at the Orthopaedic Hospital at the age of 97. At one time, he was the only orthopaedist between San Francisco and New Orleans. In 1924, he published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS) on “Rotary Subluxation of the Knee,” and in 1931 on “the Double Leaf Shelf Operation for Congenital Dislocation of the Hip.”

1955: President Warren White, MD of Honolulu (Shriners Hospital) published a paper in JBJS in 1953 called “The Development of Orthopaedics in the Far West,” highlighting the WOA.

Although the Presidents of the WOA have come from essentially every member state, there is a significant contribution from the Hawaii Chapter. In addition to Steele Stewart and Warren White, Presidents from Hawaii include Ivar Larsen (1967), William Gulledge (1974), John Smith (1980), Donald Jones (1988), Thomas Grollman (1996) and Linda Rasmussen (2009).

The WOA has been proudly represented by three female Presidents, Drs. Linda Rasmussen of Hawaii, Ellen Raney of Oregon (2013) and Valerae Lewis of Texas (2014).

The WOA was inactive from 1944 to 1946, due to World War II. In 1942, there were 89 Members. After Alfred E. Gallant was elected President in 1947, the WOA resumed meetings with its 12th held at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. This was the first meeting where a commercial exhibit was presented (reportedly with great success). This success enhanced the treasury, and the organization achieved financial stability. The chapters and the membership steadily increased, and by 1960 there were 16 chapters in all 14 western states. In 1948, there were 198 members, and by 1958 there were 698. Guest speakers became part of the program in 1954. Junior members (under the age of 42) were welcomed to the Board in 1971.

In 1954 the organization hired Vi Matheson as the full-time Secretary, and in 1956 the permanent central office was established with Ms. Matheson as the first Executive Secretary. Jacqueline Martin was hired as the Assistant Executive Secretary in July 1972 and took over the full-time position later that year when Vi Matheson retired. Jackie Martin, who passed away in 2013, continued as the Executive Secretary until her retirement in the late 1990s. The central office remained in the San Francisco area until Jackie’s retirement, and then was moved to Napa, California until 2005.

In 1955, the WOA was incorporated as a “not-for-profit organization” under the presidency of Warren White, MD. The aim of the group included scientific, educational and charitable purposes for the advancement of the art and science of orthopaedic surgery.

In 1957, a proposal was approved to give the outgoing President a gift of a Presidential Medallion – a bronze paper weight was created and provided for all Past Presidents. This presentation continued until 1980, when the medallion was incorporated into the Presidential Plaque. The tradition of presenting Presidential Medallions was reestablished during the presidency of Dr. Ramon Jimenez in 2008.

In 1960, JBJS became the official journal of the WOA, and for some years after the meeting abstracts were incorporated into the Journal.

There are several WOA residency award programs, four of which are named. The selection for each is accompanied by a $2,000 stipend. Those named awards are:

The Vernon Thompson Award
The initial WOA Resident orthopaedic surgery award was initiated through the efforts of Vernon P. Thompson, MD. He was keenly interested in the teaching and education of young physicians and felt that Residents and Fellows should be recognized by allowing them time to present at the WOA Annual Meeting. He was elected WOA president in 1952, and his primary interest was in establishing a competitive presentation by Resident surgeons. Each year there are Resident awards dedicated to Dr. Thompson’s efforts on behalf of Resident education.

Dr. Vernon Thompson received his premedical training at Stanford University, where he developed an interest in orthopaedic surgery. In 1917 he spent a year in officers’ training for the U.S. Army in Georgia, before attending Harvard Medical School, where he graduated in 1923.

After an internship at Stanford, Dr. Thompson maintained an interest in orthopaedic surgery and returned to Boston for training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Children’s Hospital. After earning his orthopaedic degree he joined the U.S. Navy, and upon discharge moved to California where he joined the Rancho los Amigos Hospital in Downey.

In 1950, he organized a yearly Resident program for the Western Orthopaedic Association’s Annual Meeting, including the presentation of several research papers based on Residents’ experiences in treating a particular orthopaedic condition. An award was given for the best presentations, many of which received accolades and were later published.

Dr. Thompson was very much involved in the research of each Resident who participated. His belief was that the best papers are founded on the long-term observations of actual patients followed over a period of years, but that critically-minded Residents have the advantage of a fresh, objective perspective in their research.

Dr. Thompson passed away in 1961.

The Lloyd Taylor Award
Lloyd Taylor was President of the WOA in 1977. After he passed away, an award in his honor was established by Richard Welch, MD (President in 2001), who recognized that Dr. Taylor’s passion was Resident education. In 1949, while at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dr. Taylor established a formal Armed Forces Orthopaedic Residency training program. He ended his military career as Chief of the training program at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco. Following his distinguished military career, Dr. Taylor was the Director of the San Francisco Orthopaedic Residency Training program.

The Sanford and Darlene Anzel Award
The Sanford and Darlene Anzel Resident Award was established in memory of Dr. Sanford Anzel (President in 1989). Dr. Anzel completed his residency at the Mayo Clinic, and after serving in the US Air Force from 1959 to 1964, he practiced in Orange County. He was one of the founders of the residency program in Orange County and the Clinical Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at University of California, Irvine as well being the Chief of Orthopaedics at the VAMC in Long Beach, California. In addition, he served as Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Orthopaedic Surgery at the Orange County Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Orange, CA, and was the Director and President of Clinical Research of the California Orthopaedic Research Institute. Dr. Anzel also served as President of the California Orthopaedic Association from 1993 to 1994, and was a charter member of the America Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons. He passed away in 2008. His wife, Darlene continues to attend the Annual Meeting to present the Anzel Award.

The Harold and Nancy Willingham Award
The Harold and Nancy Willingham Award was established as an endowment fund for Resident education. Dr. Harold Willingham has been a member of the WOA since 1966. He served the WOA as Secretary from 1978 to 1981, Treasurer from 1983 to 1984, and was on the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1991, when he became President. Dr. Willingham practiced in Tucson, Arizona and was one of the principals in the establishment of the Tucson Orthopaedic Institute. Harold and Nancy Willingham continue to attend the Annual Meeting to present the Willingham Award.

The unnamed Resident Award papers are accompanied by a stipend.

Young Investigator Awards: Three recipients are selected by the Program Committee and presented at each meeting, and each award is accompanied by a $1000 stipend.

Poster Awards: Three posters are selected at each meeting and are awarded a stipend of $700, $500 and $300 for first, second and third selections, respectively.

As part of the Resident education program, the WOA has a Resident Committee with Jeffrey Krygier, MD of San Jose currently serving as Chair.

At each Annual Meeting, the Howard H. Steel Lecture is given on a non-orthopaedic topic of interest (usually in the arts or sciences). This is thanks to a $100,000 endowment to the WOA from Dr. Steel, who was also one of the founders of the Eastern Orthopaedic Association. Dr. Steel has a legacy as an excellent clinician, teacher and researcher, particularly in the area of pediatric orthopaedics. The Steel Lecture is one of the most well-attended events each year.

In 2016, the WOA Board established the Blair Filler, MD Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of Dr. Filler who has served the WOA in many capacities, including President in 2004. He is credited with re-organizing the governance, leadership and oversight of the WOA during his presidency. The Blair Filler Award was established as an annual award to honor those special individuals who throughout their career have demonstrated and promoted the highest values of the WOA. Dr. Filler was the first awardee at the 2016 Meeting in Indian Wells, CA.

In 1989, Rodney Beals, MD (President in 1981) initiated the Travelling Professor Program, which was well-received by the chapters and Membership and continued through 2002. The awardees included David Hamblen, PhD, FRCS, Thomas Taylor, FRCS, Rene Marti, Ian Learmouth, FRCS, Christian Gerber, MD, Ian Kelly, FRCS, Ross Nicholson, FRCS, John Leong, MD, Anthony Pohl, MD, Lars Engebretsen, MD, Donald Howie, MBBS, Lennart Hovelius and Klaus Parsch.

The organization has developed a self-assessment exam (SAE) program which offers ten credit hours at each WOA Annual Meeting, which is beneficial for all Members’ maintenance of certification with the ABOS. The program grew out of a meeting organized by Bill McMaster, MD with Shep Horowitz of the ABOS and Chuck Freitag of Data Trace Management Services. The financing of this concept was linked to Ortho-Preferred liability insurance (a division of Data Trace) and facilitated by David Reicher (President of Data Trace). The relationship with Ortho-Preferred is a major benefit to the regional orthopaedic organizations, as those who choose Ortho-Preferred will also become Members of the WOA, SOA or EOA. The 2019 WOA SAE Chair is Edward Arrington, MD.

The WOA led the conversation concerning the concept of the regional organizations having a seat on the AAOS Board of Councilors (BOC). Bill McMaster, MD of the WOA advanced the concept, offering that the regionals would bring unique perspectives to the national organization. He led negotiations, and the regionals were provisionally accepted onto the BOC in 2009. The first WOA representative was Robert Slater, MD, who did a superior job including being selected to serve on the BOC Executive Committee during his tenure. Bryan Moon, MD is our current AAOS/BOC representative.

Following Robert Eilert’s Presidency, the WOA added the ex-officio position of Managing Director. The Managing Director serves in an advisory capacity to the Board and provides continuity to the organization as the Board transitions from year to year. The Managing Director serves for three years, and can be nominated for a second three-year term. Dr. Eilert served as Managing Director from 2004 to 2010, followed by Lawrence Housman from 2010 to 2016. William McMaster, MD currently holds the position.

The current WOA Board of Directors includes President Omer Ilahi, MD, first Vice President William Maloney, MD, Second Vice President Nitin Bhatia, MD, Secretary Jay Lieberman, MD, Past President Brian Jewett, MD, Treasurer Basil Besh, MD, and Members at Large Edward Arrington, MD, Richard Marder, MD and Jennifer van Warmerdam, MD.

Junior Board Members include Michael Githens, MD, Conor Kleweno, MD, Geoffrey Marecek, MD and Kathryn Schabel, MD. The 2019 Program Co-Chairs are David Mansfield, MD and David Chafey, MD. The Resident Board Members are Robin Dunn, MD and Blake Schultz, MD.

As of December 2018, the WOA has 1,012 Members in five categories: Active, Senior Active, Allied Health, Military and Resident/Fellow. Kimberly Furry, MD and Jeffrey Nakano, MD serve as the WOA Membership Co-Chairs.

Since 2003, the WOA has contracted with Data Trace Management Services to provide their financial and logistical expertise to the organization. The Executive Director, Chuck Freitag and Director of Operations, Cynthia Lichtefeld have served in these capacities since the inception of this partnership. Stacy Wald, Herb Fried, David Reicher and Audrey McDonough-Cameron round out the Data Trace Senior Management team, who interface with the WOA. Blair Filler (President in 2004) and Robert Eilert (President in 2002) were instrumental in managing the transition to Data Trace, which allowed the WOA to regain (and maintain) a firm financial state.

The organization has an Allied Health program with an outreach to orthopaedic physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other related providers, including a Specific Program at the Annual Meeting focused on their educational needs. The current chair is Theodore Coates, PA.

In 2016 under the leadership of John Tongue, MD, the WOA voted to form a 501C (3) foundation (the Western Orthopaedic Foundation). This is a tax-exempt foundation allowing contributions to further the mission of improving orthopaedic education. The WOA parent remains a 501C (6) organization. In 2018, Robert Slater, MD was elected as the first President of the Foundation. Since its inception, the WOF has partnered with OREF to support Resident research in the western region, as well as establish yearly named awards to support Resident travel to the Annual Meeting.

As the organization prepares for its 83rd Annual Meeting in Monterey, California, the WOA continues to be the premier regional organization welcoming Resident, Fellow and faculty participation to further the art and science of orthopaedic surgery. The meetings maintain a harmonious balance between scientific and social formats, and their value to all who participate endures year after year.

William McMaster, MD, Managing Director of the WOA
May 2019