Education, Inspiration & Mentors

02.12.22 05:36 PM Comment(s) By Adrienne Towsen

I will never forget how important it was to my parents that my brother and I receive the best education possible. To be a parent is to want the best for your child in every way, and you hope that you will be able to provide for them so that they can have even better opportunities than you did. You sacrifice when necessary in favor of "paying it forward"  just like your parents did for you.  In this way we hope that future generations continue to reap the benefits of those that came before, and you build a family which prospers well into the future. One could argue that in large part, the building blocks for this lie in a good education. 

There is a lot of variation in schools from public to private to parochial and all have different pros and cons. When I was younger, we moved around a lot and changed elementary schools more than once. My parents felt very strongly at the time that a private school education was best for my brother and I, and they worked extremely hard to make that happen. I am very grateful to them for sending me to Rutgers Preparatory School in New Jersey from grades 5-12. I had a wonderful experience there both in the classroom and on the lacrosse field. I was determined to make the most of this incredible opportunity, so I worked hard and did well in school. It is also key for the child to play his or her part in this process. Parents can provide opportunity and support, but ultimately this goes nowhere if the child doesn't take full advantage of the situation. "Education is not received, it is achieved"

I went on to my first choice school, Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where I once again worked hard in the classroom and on the lacrosse field. This was the perfect place for me. A small school with a beautiful campus, excellent academics, a wonderful lacrosse program and only a couple of hours away from home. My parents once again worked very hard to provide this education for me at an amazing (and expensive) private college. I knew early on that I wanted to go to medical school, but there was not a true pre-med major at Haverford, so I ended up as a molecular biology major and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. Those four years did bring with them some ups and downs, but also a very defining moment which I did not realize as such at the time. During pre-season lacrosse practice my sophomore year, I injured my knee which ultimately required surgery, and I missed the whole season that year. I was a devastated 19 year old at the time, but I had the incredible good fortune to meet an extraordinary orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Larry Miller who performed my knee surgery on April 5, 1991 (almost 31 years ago😱). He had also attended Haverford College and was serving as the team physician there at that time. I recovered well and went on to play two more seasons as a team captain and then two years of club lacrosse after college as well. I am grateful to him for the excellent work on my knee, but perhaps even more grateful for what was still to come...

While at Haverford, I was exposed to the world of athletic training. Lacrosse is a spring sport, but did have "fall ball" as well. I was only off from playing my sport during the winter season, and I worked as a student athletic trainer during that time. This was in large part inspired by my own rehabilitation after surgery.  I worked with our men's basketball team during the winter seasons of my last two years of college, and it made me think about possibly considering a career in physical therapy instead. I decided to take a year "off"  after graduating from college, and during that time I worked as the assistant to the head athletic trainer at Haverford. I was also able to shadow my orthopaedic surgeon Dr, Miller in his office and occasionally in the operating room as well. He was gracious enough to let me come on a very regular basis that whole year and it "sealed the deal".  During that time I had actually applied to both medical school and physical therapy school, but there was no question in my mind that medical school was the right choice. It had been the right decision from the start, but my time with Dr. Miller convinced me for sure.  In May of 1998, I graduated from the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel) and went on to an orthopaedic surgery residency program at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

During my residency, I was fortunate to work with many wonderful surgeons and my fellow residents were all great guys as well.  Completing five years of residency during which time I also had my two children and experienced the break-up of my marriage was not an easy task. It was a tremendous accomplishment for me, but I could have never done this without help. My residency graduation was a very meaningful night which I was so happy to celebrate with my parents who gave me the most amazing foundation all those years ago with my education at Rutgers Prep and Haverford. They literally came to my rescue as my marriage ended and allowed me to finish my residency on time by being there for me and my daughters with full time love, support and child care. Dr. Mark Baratz, our residency director at the time and Dr. Rob Dawson, my co-resident for five years are two more people I am forever grateful to for incredible support always.  Throughout those five years I also kept in close touch with Dr. Miller who was a constant source of encouragement and guidance.  I knew fairly early during residency that I wanted to subspecialize in sports medicine (shoulder and knee surgery primarily). This was also Dr. Miller's specialty, and he was one of the attending surgeons at the Thomas Jefferson University orthopaedic surgery sports medicine fellowship in Philadelphia.  We apply for fellowships during our 4th year of residency, and I was thrilled to be offered a position at the Jefferson fellowship. I would then do the last year of my training under my former surgeon and forever mentor. 

Fellowship year (2003-2004) was challenging but also amazing. I worked under three other surgeons as well, but perhaps felt the most stressed when I was working with Dr. Miller. We now laugh about how I cried one day in the OR because I was so frustrated about not doing as well as I felt he wanted me to. "There's no crying in orthopedics"🤣 This is mostly true, but with the connection we had, I wanted nothing more than to do excellent work all the time and make him proud. I felt like we were coming full circle now...starting with shadowing him before I was even in medical school to being scrubbed in and operating side by side during the final year of my training. 

I think I just got goose bumps.😉 

The story is far from over, but I can wrap up the last 18 years in these final paragraphs. I started in practice in 2004 at a small hospital very close to my home as an employed physician. I was starting off by myself which is not the ideal situation, but it builds strength and character pretty quickly. I had to figure things out without the benefit of partners or any other orthopedic surgeons around me in the same was just me. But what I always had (and still to this day have) was the ability to pick up the phone and hear Larry Miller's voice on the other end. 

My very first case in practice was an autograft ACL reconstruction. It is one of the more technically demanding cases we learn how to do in sports medicine and ironically the same surgery Dr. Miller had done on me all those years ago. A defining moment at that time and another defining moment at this time. Huge thank you to Dr, Miller for his role in  both of these. He spent an hour with me on the phone the night before reviewing every step of the procedure and every possible pitfall. I went into surgery the next day feeling confident with his voice still in my head, and I did it! It took me about three times as long to do the procedure as it does now, but it was a success! I called him when I was done and we celebrated the victory! Several months later we were on the phone discussing another case and I mentioned what I would be doing for my birthday a few days later. He said "wait....Saturday...May 22....that's your birthday?...It's my birthday too!"🥳. After already knowing each other for 13 years, we never realized we shared the same birthday. So from then on, every year, in late May, we have dinner together to celebrate our birthday. It has been an amazing tradition which we even held up in May of 2020 with a drink together over FaceTime when all the restaurants were closed. Some years we don't get to see each other except for that dinner, but some years we manage to catch up at other orthopedic events we have in common or squeeze another dinner into our busy schedules. I think we always drive our server crazy because we easily talk non-stop for 20-30 minutes before even glancing at the menu.

I joined my current group in 2006, and Dr. Miller was also instrumental in making that decision. He helped me every step of the way and he knew the guys I would be joining. In fact he said it was the only group he would let me join in the area because he knew they were good surgeons and good people. He was right...of course he was right...he has looked out for me and given me only the best advice from day one. Despite his extremely demanding schedule, he has always been just a call or text away. Throughout my almost 18 years in practice, I have tossed the lifeline out to him on a handful of occasions to get his advice on  patients as well. The beauty of us practicing in the same geographic region is that I could also send a patient to see him when I needed his help. We know many people in common in the industry, and it is the best feeling when he lets me know that others tell him about my reputation  and the good work that I am doing.  I know he is proud of what I have accomplished, and there is no better way to show my appreciation for all that he has given me than to take great care of patients and put the skills he gave me to use. He is approaching retirement later this year and we just had and "extra" dinner together a few nights ago in celebration of this. What a wonderful time we had, He is truly one of a kind and has had a huge impact on the lives of so many from patients, to students, to residents, fellows, and colleagues. His impact will be felt far and wide for many, many years to come. I am so fortunate to have this special relationship with him and the most amazing mentor ever.  My is a gift...cherish those who give it..parents and mentors alike.

With much love, admiration and appreciation, this post is dedicated to Larry Miller, M.D. 💙 See you in May!🥂

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