Chris van der Werken, AO Past-President: Embracing the evidence-based AO philosophy, methods, and techniques

Chris van der Werken at the AO Trustees Meeting 2016, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

By: Vidula Bhoyroo, Project Manager/Medical Writer, AO Education Institute

Christian van der Werken was the President of the AO from 2006 to 2008. After his studies at the University of Utrecht, his surgical training and medical career have been in The Netherlands, with three months working during an AO fellowship at the Uniklinik Ulm, Germany. From 1992 to 2009, he was Professor of Surgery, University Medical Center Utrecht. Besides being a member of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, he is affiliated with several other associations. He is a honorary member of the Dutch Trauma Society and was awarded the gold medal of the Dutch Surgical Society, AO Latin-America, and Asociación Argentina del Trauma Orthopédico, among others. At the AO, he is a member of the Board of Trustees, a founding member of the AO Alliance, and from 2001 to 2006 was a of the Member Board of Directors. He has also co-edited a bestseller book with Piet de Boer, titled Resident's Handbook: Orthopaedic Trauma Care.

How did you hear of the AO? And why did you decide to join this community?

I started my surgical training in 1974. My chief of trauma surgery was, at the time, one of the few AO supporters in The Netherlands. In the same year, René Marti, an orthopedic surgeon from St Gallen, was appointed full professor at the University of Amsterdam. He organized monthly AO meetings, case presentations, and patient discussions that attracted dozens of orthopedists and mainly surgeons from all over the country. My chief invited me to join him at these meetings where I was introduced to international speakers from René Marti’s Swiss AO network, and I got heavily infected by the AO virus. In 1976 I did a fellowship at the Uniklinik in Ulm, Germany, which was a definitive brainwashing for me.

In what ways did the AO support you to evolve in your daily work as a surgeon?

In my career as a table instructor and active faculty, on the one hand, I taught, and on the other, I learned even more in return. The input from my international AO network was overwhelming.

In my own practice and academic career, I embraced the evidence-based AO philosophy, methods, and techniques. For many years I was a member of experts' groups, research committees, and the Clinical Investigation and Documentation Commission. This gave me access to experimental and newly invented implants and advanced techniques. My department participated in many international clinical studies and implant-handling tests.

What were some of the highlights of your AO Presidency?

I had the honor to serve as President of the Foundation from 2006 to 2008. For me, it felt more or less like the golden age of AO. Highlights were the official establishment of AO CMF and AO Trauma in 2008. My absolute highlight was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of AO in the same year, with numerous regional meetings, festivities, and exciting parties throughout the whole year worldwide.

In the current landscape where all types of credible, invalid, or fake news are at our fingertips, how should the AO navigate to survive and deliver what it knows best─education?

  • Even more than before, the main focus of AO must be on education: invest in a top-of-the-bill professional organization.
  • Stick to evidence-based teaching.
  • Work closely together with the AO Alliance.
  • Also, pay attention to nonoperative treatment.
  • Update, expand, and improve Surgery Reference.
  • Offer education programs tailored to loco/regional needs and resources.
  • Emphasis must be on electronic/hybrid teaching based on up-to-date AI.
  • Maintain (reversed) fellowships.
  • Develop a serious aftercare program for all course participants, make them feel special.
  • Develop mandatory pre- and post-course assessments.

How would you encourage younger surgeons to be members of the AO community?

  • Make all interested young surgeons feel special: pay attention.
  • Offer all course participants some follow-up program and aftercare. Ask for their opinion and specific demands, give them feedback.
  • Create short-term (one or two weeks) local/regional fellowships.
  • Stimulate, motivate, and inspire.

You might also be interested in: