Michael Baumgaertner, MD, is a Yale Medicine orthopedic traumatologist who treats fractures and dislocations, and related complications. With the exception of the spine, he provides musculoskeletal care for every part of the body, caring for people with complex, sometimes multiple injuries after they’ve been in motorcycle crashes or fallen from heights, as well as those who may have a more simple fracture after slipping on ice.
Treating fractures is not difficult for a specialist with the proper training, says Dr. Baumgaertner, who is also chief of the Orthopedic Trauma Service at Yale New Haven Hospital and helped create the Fragility Hip Program at the Center for Musculoskeletal Care to improve the prospects of older hip patients. “There's no question that the technology and the skills of surgeons are better than they’ve ever been before,” he says, citing minimally invasive surgery and three-dimensional imaging as two major advances.
However, it’s still surgical skill and creativity that drive outcomes, and bedside manner is critical, Dr. Baumgaertner says. “You need to have the ability to really understand what an injury means to the patient, including the fears they may have about how it will affect their employment and their relationships,” he says. “They may not say these things, but they’re there, and if you don’t understand them it can really interfere with their recovery. I remind them that my job is not just to repair their elbow or their ankle, but really to repair their life. I help them realize there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dr. Baumgaertner discovered his interest in orthopedic surgery while he was an undergraduate studying art history at Stanford University. “I was blown away by the Renaissance, where science and art came together to do things that had never been before,” he says. “I decided I wanted to work in an area of medicine where form followed function, and that's musculoskeletal surgery.” He is also trained in plastic surgery, which allows him to perform reconstructive surgeries of the arms and legs.
A professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Baumgaertner is internationally recognized for a landmark 1995 publication on hip fracture fixation, for his introduction of a way of measuring the precise placement of a new hip deep into the middle of the hip bone. The technique is now the universal standard. He has also held several national leadership positions, and is currently chairman of the board of AO North America, a non-profit organization of more than 1,000 surgeons that is dedicated to the optimal care of patients with fractures and/or deformity.