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Focus on Robert Brophy, MD

Robert Brophy, MD is an assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery. His area of specialty is sports medicine, including arthroscopic treatment of knee and shoulder injuries.

Dr. Brophy sees patients at two locations:

Center for Advanced Medicine, Orthopedic Surgery Center, 4921 Parkview Place, 12th floor, Suite A.

Washington University Orthopedics, 14532 S. Outer 40 Drive, Chesterfield, MO.

FOR AN APPOINTMENT, PLEASE PHONE 314 747-2500 (Center for Advanced Medicine) or 314 514-3500 (Washington University Orthopedics).

What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose orthopedics as your specialty?

With my background as an engineer and college athlete, orthopedic surgery had some obvious aspects that made it very appealing to me. Once I was exposed to the specialty, I found that I enjoyed almost every facet of it -- from the residents and attending physicians who taught me, to the diagnosis, treatment and eventual outcome of the patient. It made sense for me in terms of what I wanted to do.

Did your sports background lead you to specializing in sports injuries?

There is a great deal of crossover between the orthopedic specialties, and I enjoyed most of them. But I had my suspicions that sports medicine would be where I would end up – and it turned out to be true. I particularly enjoy treating patients with sports injuries and performing arthroscopic surgeries; I also like having the opportunity to take care of athletes and be involved in team care and research.

What brought you to Washington University?

I enjoyed my time here as a medical student. I had very positive feelings towards the institution and the people -- as a whole and within the department of orthopedic surgery. When I finished my medical training, the opportunity to join Washington University made sense for a lot of reasons.

Dr. Brophy and family at Lake Geneva

Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?

I enjoy the many aspects of my practice – including the opportunity to see patients in the clinic, perform surgeries, be involved in team care, do research, and teach medical students, residents and fellows. However, if I was forced to pick one, it would be surgery.

Is there a particular type of surgery that you prefer?

In sports medicine we do a lot of arthroscopic surgery – particularly in the knee and shoulder. That’s my most common type of surgery and fortunately, the one that I enjoy the most.

Are there any new developments in your field that you are excited about?

There are always new developments in orthopedics. In sports medicine we are particularly interested in better ways to restore cartilage in the joint -- whether it’s the articular cartilage or the meniscus. For a long time we’ve had the ability to clean up damage, but we haven’t had the ability to replace or reconstruct cartilage as we can with a ligament – such as an ACL. It is still in its infancy, but we are exploring better options for restoring knee cartilage.

Can you describe a few of the new options for cartilage reconstruction?

There are a variety of new ways to repair articular cartilage. One option is micro-fracture, where we try to create some scar tissue that fills in the cartilage. Another technique includes transplanting cartilage from somewhere else in the knee to the damaged area. A procedure that is very promising involves transplanting a cadaver cartilage to replace a defect in the knee.

An evolving area that has shown a lot of success involves cellular replacement -- taking some of the patient’s own cells, growing new cartilage and putting them back to replace the injured area.
These innovative techniques are the exciting future for cartilage repair.

Where are you from?

I was born in Michigan, and as a child lived in Idaho and Georgia. I spent most of my latter childhood in upstate New York. I went to school in California, and lived there for a number of years. After going to medical school here at Washington University, I went to New York City for training. I’m now back in St. Louis, so it’s hard to say exactly where I’m from.

You were recently named one of the “Best Doctors in America”, is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying to you?

I’ve been fortunate to have some very nice awards, but my most important achievement is the gratitude of my patients. The ability to do a good job and make a difference for people -- that’s what doctoring is all about. A hand-drawn picture and note from a patient’s daughter saying “Thanks for getting my dad better”, matters a lot more than any plaque on the wall.

Can you explain the North America Traveling Fellowship?

I recently had the honor to participate in the North America Traveling Fellowship. Every other year the American Orthopaedic Association and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery selects several orthopedic doctors from the United States and one from Canada to participate in the fellowship. For six weeks the group travels together to leading academic orthopedic institutions to meet the faculty, researchers and department chairs.

We are asked to present our research and talk about what we’re doing. It was a tremendous opportunity to see what’s going on in the world of orthopedic surgery – to learn from others, gain insight into what they’ve done well, what they would like to do better, and the challenges they’ve faced and are facing in orthopedics.

It is an experience that will probably grow over time for me in terms of its value. I’ve started relationships and developed connections that may become important going forward.

What institutions did you visit?

We had 17 stops between Birmingham, Alabama and Toronto, Canada. We were able to visit places that included the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, and many of the prominent orthopedic programs in the Midwest – with an excellent visit here at Washington University. It was absolutely phenomenal.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s difficult for me to pinpoint one particular piece of advice. I’ve been fortunate to have outstanding mentors along the way – as a medical student, resident and fellow. Dr.Richard Gelberman and the faculty here have been great sounding boards, offering a cumulative wealth of advice, insight and ability to help me get the most out of what I am doing.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?

I can take this in a thousand different ways. I’m fortunate because I know I love being a doctor. If I hadn’t ended up going into medicine, I would probably have ended up being a professor at a business school. I enjoy playing sports and being physically active, especially with my family – that’s what I enjoy when I’m not in the office.

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Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine