Richard H. Rothman, MD, PhD, 81, passed peacefully with his family by his side on Sunday, October 21, 2018, after a battle with cancer. Most everyone in the world of orthopaedics knows the name Dick Rothman. An iconoclastic figure, he was known as a pioneer of orthopaedics, an unrivaled clinician, a devoted researcher, and an enthusiastic teacher. His professional accomplishments speak for themselves, but I would like to offer a few highlights.
In his long career, first as a spine surgeon and then as an arthroplasty surgeon, his name as an editor still endures on the 2-volume multiple edition “The Spine,” a text that any spine surgeon over the age of 35 relied on for a better understanding of spinal care. He, along with Sam Weisel, the Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at Georgetown University and former Dean, authored the Pennsylvania algorithm on the management of low back pain, one of the earliest attempts at using evidence-based science to manage a burdensome health issue that plagues more than 80% of the U.S. population. As a joint surgeon, he wrote the earliest text on how to demystify total hip arthroplasty, called “The Hip,” and then went on to be one of the most productive arthroplasty surgeons in the world. After beginning his career at the University of Pennsylvania he went on to become the founder of what is now one of the largest orthopaedic practices in the country, with its main offices within the Jefferson Health Care System in Philadelphia.
But the Dick Rothman that I knew for the last 30+ years was so much more. He was a loving husband who adored his wife Marsha, a dedicated father of 4 children, and a doting grandfather. He instilled in all members of the Rothman Institute that the patient always comes first and that to be a true leader among the residents and faculty you needed to arrive the earliest in the morning and be the last to leave. As such he always resided just a few blocks from his office and hospital. Dr. Rothman would walk the halls of the Institute at the end of the day and thanked every person from the receptionists to his clinical team, as the employees were the heart and soul of the business he built. He trained some of the greatest leaders in orthopaedics, many of whom are active Chairmen and Deans in the country today. Beyond this, he still had time for hobbies and outside interests, which he made me understand was the ingredient for lasting power in the demanding and complex world of medicine today. On the side, he consulted for Wall Street and enjoyed collecting art, reading books, and spending the weekends with his children and grandchildren in New York.
My favorite times with Dick Rothman, however, were our private retreats where he, our CEO Mike West, and our wives, Marsha, Lynn, and Lauren, would travel to obscure locations to discuss life, our families, and the challenges of health care; but most importantly, these occasions were for us to laugh and enjoy our time together.
Dick Rothman was a sage, who always had time for words of encouragement or advice for people near and far. He was naturally curious, an attribute apparent in all aspects of his professional and personal life. He possessed a quick wit, a wicked sense of humor, and a stark humility for a man of his stature.
We will all miss him dearly, but his legacy within our group and orthopaedics in general will live on forever through its independence, entrepreneurial spirit, and love for patient care. The world is a better place for having him with us for such a short time.