Bright outlook

DO orthopedic surgeon is now serving as chair of prestigious New York orthopedic surgery program

Award-winning surgeon Adam Bitterman, DO, shares details about his background and training and how they led him to the top of his field.

Orthopedic surgeon Adam Bitterman, DO, is a trailblazer in the DO community and a hometown hero. Dr. Bitterman recently became chair of orthopedic surgery at Huntington Hospital Northwell Health in New York, one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 orthopedic surgery programs in the country. Few DOs have achieved the honor of serving as chair of a top-ranked orthopedic surgery program.

Dr. Bitterman’s journey to medicine started in Long Island, New York, where he grew up. He then trained locally at New York Institute of Technology School of Osteopathic Medicine and completed an orthopedic surgery residency at North Shore-LIJ Plainview Orthopedic Consortium. After, he left the area for a fellowship in Foot and Ankle at Rush University in Chicago.

While there, he worked alongside the team physicians for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. During his fellowship at Rush, he was awarded The Jorge Galante Award for outstanding research for his work on Achilles tendinosis.

After his training, he found his way back to Long Island and happened to land his current position at the hospital where he was born.

Dr. Bitterman also educates students and residents as an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. You can catch his commentary on Twitter, where he will let you know about surgery, medicine and Mets baseball. Step up to the plate as we throw some fast balls with Dr. Bitterman.

I introduced you as a hometown hero. How did you end up back at the hospital you were born in? What’s the importance to you of leading and working for the same community that raised you?

Dr. Bitterman operates.

I trained here at Huntington Hospital as a fourth-year medical student and completed my orthopedic residency at North Shore-LIJ Plainview consortium, which includes Huntington Hospital in their system. After my Rush fellowship in Chicago, the department chair called me and said they have an opportunity for me, and it was one of those things where you trained there, you have mentors, and now your mentors are asking you to come join them.

When the people you look up to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you come and join the team?’ It’s like, ‘OK, I’m ready. Put me in coach! Let’s go.’ One of the big factors in this decision was the ability to give back to the community that raised me. There’s not a day that goes by in the office or hospital that I’m not seeing people I grew up with. This includes seeing my teachers in high school, my coaches, friends and family members of loved ones that I know. Not only am I leading in the hospital and treating patients, but I’m doing it in a community that raised me.

I read a recent research article in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that you co-authored, “Differences in Fourth-Year Orthopaedic Away Rotation Opportunities and Fees Among Osteopathic and Allopathic Medical Students 1 Year After the Implementation of the Single Accreditation System.” The research discusses the extra fees DO students pay for fourth-year away rotations compared to MDs and other biases. What advice would you give to osteopathic medical students who want to become orthopedic surgeons and fight this still-lingering obstacle?

Our research concluded that ‘Although DO and MD degrees are equivalent degrees for licensing and credentialing and graduate medical education has transitioned to a single accrediting body, there remained discord in the opportunities for fourth-year away rotations between osteopathic and allopathic medical students. This study highlights the necessity for greater awareness, reform, consistency and transparency among orthopedic surgery residency programs and their affiliated institutions.’

Almost 10% of the orthopedic programs were found to have publicly published eligibility for away rotations that prohibited students based on applicant degree. Five (2.6%) programs/medical schools had fees that were larger for DO medical students compared with MD medical students, ranging from $50 to $5,000. No programs/medical schools had larger fees for MD medical students compared with DO medical students.

Dr. Bittman poses proudly.

Editor’s Note: The AOA is actively involved in disputing and fighting these discrepancies. For more information and for details on reporting unfair treatment, see our Professional Advocacy page.

As you can see, the DO bias in orthopedics and other specialties is still real and out there. My advice for osteopathic medical students interested in orthopedic surgery is to remember that Step 1/Level 1 is Pass/Fail now. With this in mind, students will need to separate themselves from the competition. You need to network. You can network through your rotations, extracurriculars and research.

You need to have research. You need to publish manuscripts or be on projects with the goal towards being published. I also sit on the evaluation committee for our orthopedic residency program and I wouldn’t expect you to be a first author for a Lancet article, but you have to be involved.

You recently were promoted to chair of orthopedic surgery at Huntington Hospital. This is a grand achievement. How can we as a profession strive to have more DOs in positions like this?

We (DOs) have to continue to push the envelope. We have to question dogma. We have to practice evidence-based medicine. There are a multitude of policies and procedures that exist that are outdated and need to be questioned. We can’t just go through the motions because someone told us that’s the right way. We don’t want to rebut everything and be anti-everything, but we want to try and advance the ball.

We want to provide quality care for our patients. We want proof that what we’re doing works, rather than just you saying, I’m the expert and this is the way to do it. That takes time. It takes energy. As osteopathic physicians, we put a good product forward. We just have to build upon that. To further our profession, you have to publish, do your area of expertise, contribute to presentations, lectures, things like that.

My field is MD-dominated and extremely competitive. To play in a competitive field, you have to hold your ground, hold your own, know that you belong, and let your work do the talking.

I see you are active on social media and you also write research articles and do Q&As about orthopedics. Can you tell us more about your social media presence?

I just try to raise awareness for orthopedics. I try to raise awareness for DOs in the match and advocate for our specialty, advocate for our patients, advocate for providing the best possible care. I’m a big fan of trainees, residents and students. We’ve all been there!

Social media is not easy. It makes you want to pull your hair out at times, but in the end, it goes well with what we as doctors are trying to accomplish for our patients and community. I also use it for Mets baseball banter, but that’s a whole other story. When it comes to social media, everyone is doing it. So it’s a good way to educate one another, communicate, commiserate and network. And it’s not the “be-all, end-all,” but it’s a way of marketing yourself. You can find me on Twitter: @DrAdamBitterman.

Other than surgery, what do you do in your free time, and can you comment on the importance of having a work-life balance?

I think it’s critical to work hard and play hard. The definition of playing hard is very user-specific and it’s very individualized. You need a way to disconnect good outcomes and bad outcomes. You need to ride the highs and ride the lows and try and escape as best you can. You do that with friends, family, loved ones and hobbies. For me, I’m a die-hard Mets fan and sports fan. So, I’ll catch a game here or there and go to events. Obviously, hanging out with my wife and kids is pivotal, but on the outside, I’m also a photographer.

Related reading:

How this DO matched into orthopedic surgery

DO advocates for diversity in medicine, works toward justice and equality

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