Dr. Brian Cole , MD, MBA
Shoulder, Elbow, and Knee Surgery
Rush University Medical Center
Achieve: When and why did you become interested in medicine?
Dr. Brian Cole: I would say, at a very young age; probably going back to Junior High. Having an interest, knowledge, and understanding of something that makes a difference to other people. It was really that simple. It was mostly about learning a foundation and knowledge base that would lead to the opportunity and privilege to help other people.
Achieve: Why did you choose the path of surgery?
Dr. Cole: It was very definitive. I think that it is important to understand that “choosing surgery” isn’t all surgery. It’s simply medicine that has the opportunity to provide surgical solutions. The problems people have that require treatment in the orthopedic space are generally very objective and have definitive solutions that may include surgery, but often times, at least in my field, they may be treated with reassurance, education, and non-surgical means.
Achieve: You are ahead of the field with surgical techniques and research, how do you stay ahead with your busy caseload?
Dr. Cole: I balance my time against clinical responsibilities, which is surgery and seeing patients, to include research, helping to run a large animal lab- a clinical trials section, and being very involved with teaching both nationally and internationally at conferences. I give up my time to teach other surgeons and researchers about the things that we do at Rush (University Medical Center).
Achieve: Tell us about the process of creating and tweaking the protocols dependent on the different types of athletes that you see.
Dr. Cole: It depends on the person’s motives, but the objective is, independent of the level of athleticism, that they understand the phases of recovery well so that the person doesn’t decondition around their problem. Understanding how to protect during the early phases of healing, which is typically in an 8 to 12-week range, while you maintain the strength and conditioning around that joint, so that once the joint is ready to go, the athlete is not deconditioned elsewhere so they can efficiently and safely return to sport.
Achieve: How is important is physical therapy in return to sport whether surgical or not?
Dr. Cole: I think it is incredibly important especially as you are close to injury. For example, take an upper extremity problem- it’s not intuitive how the scapula plays a really important part in recovery for say a thrower’s shoulder. It’s not intuitive for an individual to learn how to mobilize the muscles that control the scapula and there are motor patterns that are hard to teach. I certainly think that there are transitional places where their therapist may not be required, and an athlete or patient could be relatively independent with this model whether it is on their own or with a trainer. However, I think that the closer they are to the injury or treatment, the more important the role of the physical therapist is.
Achieve: Tell us about the legacy that you would like to leave on Chicago sports medicine and the profession as a whole when you step away from being a treating doctor.
Dr. Cole: I would say that the ability to teach and hone in on the ability to define who really needs treatment. Educating others who are evaluating patients so that they can better understand the nature of the problem and what their goals are. Also, to get our arms around how well we really do whether it is with surgical or non-surgical options. I think that teaching people, especially surgeons, that decision making is probably more important than the actual act of doing surgery. I think that young surgeons need to understand how to make decisions in the treatment recommendations; how to get inside a patient’s head, if you will, to figure out exactly what they are looking for; being able to identify solutions that are not always surgical; and hopefully remaining open minded about various options to help keep the patient out of the operating room when possible. But when it is required, I hope they have a really good understanding on how to exceed a patient’s expectations. So I really think it all comes down to decision making more than anything else, and I would say the other thing would be helping to participate in next generation tech that may include biologics to help treat our patients in the office and in the operating room which would improve our existing outcomes.
Achieve: What advice do you give to young orthopedics coming out of school?
Dr. Cole: Identify role models who you would like to work with, to shadow, to learn from, and to take in a buffet of different individuals who can contribute to the way they will conduct themselves going forward. I don’t think there is any single role model that is right for any individual, but certainly, if one has the opportunity to expose themselves to different people out in their field and use those people to best shape how they conduct themselves, that could be really effective.
Dr. Brian Cole is available for out of Rush University Center: (708) 236-2701