By: 6 December 2022
Surgeon in Focus with Serena Hu

Serena S. Hu is Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, CA.

Dr Hu’s research interests include prediction and prevention of metastatic fractures of the spine that could otherwise lead to paralysis; disc degeneration and its potential prevention or reversal. Her clinical interests include prevention of complications and treatment of adult scoliosis. Dr Hu received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. She completed her medical training at McGill University in Montreal, Canada before serving an internship in general surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Dr Hu was a resident in orthopaedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Cornell University Medical School in New York. Following her residency, she completed a fellowship in spine and scoliosis surgery at Rancho Los Amigos in Downey, CA. She has recently been appointed the first female president of the Scoliosis Research Society.  She also recently completed her term as the 134th president of the American Orthopedic Association, also their first woman president.  


OPN: What drove you to choose surgery as a career – and orthopaedic surgery in particular? 

SH:  I was very impressed as a medical student at the impact orthopedic surgery could make on people’s quality of life, in tangible and relatively rapid ways. I also had liked the technical and reconstructive aspects of surgery.  


OPN: It is clear that the healthcare industry has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, what has been the greatest impact for you within the orthopaedic industry? 

SH:  The pandemic has resulted in staffing shortages across all fields, the medical field has been particularly strongly affected because of care of these patients and ever-changing priorities for maintaining the best and safest care for patients. But it continues to affect our ability to be fully staffed and offer care to as many people as we have the capacity for. This means that surgeries and other care (such as PT) can be delayed because of staffing shortages.  One good thing to come out of the pandemic is the ability to do video visits, which has saved many patients lots of travel time.  It doesn’t substitute for an in-person visit, but there are certainly many times that in person isn’t required.  


OPN: What’s the best part of your job? 

SH: Being able to improve a patient’s function, whether it be from prescribing a successful physical therapy programme or performing an operation that restores that function; I really love getting hugs from patients I have been able to help.  


OPN: … and the worst? 

SH: Seeing those people that we don’t have the answers for because we don’t have a solution for their injuries or degeneration or basic health status.  


OPN: What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

SH:  I have been so fortunate, I have had great mentors and so many opportunities in my career.   Although being SRS president ranks as one of the highlights, I also get so much gratification from having former residents and fellows reach out for career advice or to thank me for prior guidance.  


OPN: Are you currently involved in any research or work with emerging technologies? 

SH:  I have quite a few research projects going on and planned.  Most of them involved improving outcomes and decreasing complications for spine surgery.  


OPN: Please can you tell us more about the research and what it could mean to patient experience and outcomes? 

SH:  We are particularly interested in the cost and value of health care and the factors, modifiable and not, that drive these costs for spine care.  We all know how expensive health care is in the US and improving our understanding of how we can optimise patients to have better outcomes will help decrease those costs.   


OPN: You have recently been appointed the first female president of the Scoliosis Research Society. Congratulations! How do you feel about your new role and do you have any goals to serve the members as president? 

SH:  I am very honoured and excited to serve as SRS president.  It’s a wonderful society with so many talented and committed people.  I will be working to continue the great work of my predecessors, but also to expand upon this work.  Specifically, we will be working to improve our leadership development within the SRS, helping our members gain skills and experience to maximize the future of the society. This will help with diversity, openness and communication as well.  


OPN: Are you planning to attend any orthopaedic or spinal events in the next year? 

SH: As SRS president, I am invited to participate in many spine meetings worldwide, such as a joint meeting with SRS and SILACO in Mexico City, and our  IMAST course in Dublin and our annual meeting in Seattle.  I also plan to attend meetings that I normally attend including the Cervical Spine Research Society (CSRS) and ISSLS, as well as AOA. It will be a busy year!  


OPN: If you weren’t an orthopaedic surgeon what would you be? 

SH: I would probably be a writer or journalist. 


OPN: What would you tell your 21-year-old self? 

SH:  I’m not sure I would listen to my mature self. But I’d probably say, stop and smell the roses, enjoy the journey as well as focusing on the goals.  


OPN: If you were Health Minister for the day what changes would you implement? 

SH: Access to good health care, including preventative care, is very important to improve in the US. But we also need to make sure patients take responsibility in their care and also to have realistic expectations. The cost of health care delivery in the US is clearly unsustainable, but doctors, patients, hospitals and society all want newer, quicker, shinier solutions, which isn’t always needed or worthwhile.  


OPN: Away from the clinic and operating theatre – what do you do to relax? 

SH:  I have too many outside interests, so I am a jack of all trades outside of work, meaning not very good at any of these. I enjoy biking, swimming, golf, reading, writing, skiing, travel. I like to do many of these with my husband John, and when they are interested and available, with my adult kids as well.  


OPN: How do you think the future looks in the field of orthopaedic surgery and what are your predictions for 2023 and the next decade?   

SH: I believe that 2023 and the next decade will continue to have a rapid growth of new technologies, with improved imaging, particularly diagnostics. But in the long term, we need to get better at preventative care, which are likely much more low-tech.  But while patients and surgeons get excited by fancy shiny technology, I think we also all appreciate that being proactive at preventing problems will have a greater impact.   


With thanks to Serena S. Hu, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Chief, Spine Service, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Stanford University

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