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Orthopaedics lectureship honors legend in sports medicine

Mar. 2, 2023, 9:16 AM


by Danny Bonvissuto

The First Annual W. Ben Kibler Sports Medicine Lectureship was held Friday, Feb. 10, at the Frist Art Museum. This endowed lectureship for the Department of Orthopaedics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center supports an annual educational series in sports medicine for athletic trainers, medical students, residents, fellows and practicing physicians.

Renowned orthopaedic surgeon W. Ben Kibler, MD, delivered the new lecture bearing his name.
Renowned orthopaedic surgeon W. Ben Kibler, MD, delivered the new lecture bearing his name. (photo by Donn Jones)

Ben Kibler, MD, the honoree and keynote speaker, attended Vanderbilt University 1964-1968 and played for the baseball team, serving as co-captain in 1968. He received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1972 and, after a one-year surgery internship at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, he returned for his fellowship in neuromuscular diseases 1973-1974 and orthopaedic residency from 1974-1977.

Kibler established The Shoulder Center of Kentucky at Lexington Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1977 and stayed connected to VUMC by serving on the Medical School Alumni Board and returning frequently as a guest lecturer. He retired in 2020.

“In the world of treating baseball players, there are two eras: There’s B.K., or Before Kibler, and A.K., or After Kibler,” said John “Jed” Kuhn, MD, course moderator and chief of shoulder surgery at VUMC. “Orthopaedic surgeons are trained to look at pathology and fix anatomy. B.K. we would fix broken anatomy. A.K. we don’t pay as much attention to the anatomy but are focused also on restoration of function. We don’t want to make them normal; we want to make them throw.”

The course covered current care concepts for upper extremity injuries in the shoulder, elbow hip and core. Guest speakers included Kuhn, Felix “Buddy” Savoie III, MD, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; Eric Bowman, MD, VUMC orthopaedic surgeon; Aaron Sciascia, PhD, clinical outcomes and research director at Lexington Clinic; and Marc Safran, MD, Chief of Sports Medicine at Stanford University Medical Center.

Kibler’s talks covered “The Scapula in the Thrower,” “Biceps Labral Pathology in the Thrower” and “Pearls and Pitfalls: 45 Years of Experience in Clinical Care,” in which he explained why the Roman poet Virgil’s quote “fortunate is he who understands the causes of things” has been a guideline for his career.

Kibler, who has had more than 240,000 patient encounters and performed more than 23,000 surgeries, underlined the importance of understanding your subject thoroughly.

“The way the (U.S.) treasury department tells its agents to recognize a counterfeit dollar bill is to make them understand what the normal dollar bill is, and everything deviant from that becomes a counterfeit,” Kibler said. “Therefore, in patient care you’ve got to know the anatomy, physiology, mechanics and motions that are required in doing activities to be able to assess the alterations accurately.”

Kibler has published 225 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, authored or co-authored 13 books and was inducted into the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Hall of Fame in 2021.

“He’s done a lot to change the face of sports medicine, particularly in throwing athletes,” Kuhn said. “Back before people understood what Ben was talking about, we would operate on every thrower, and they often didn’t do very well. Ben’s concept of treating the core, scapula and GIRD (glenohumeral internal rotation deficit) has probably saved thousands of baseball players from the operating room.”

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