Tell our readers about you and your journey to becoming a doctor?
I think I always knew I was going to be a doctor. My father was an OB/GYN and I think I naturally thought I would follow in his foot steps. I really looked up to him. As young as I can remember, I would go to make rounds with him on Sundays before church.
People were always telling me how great of a doctor he was. But when I approached college, he actually told me that being a doctor was so much work that I shouldn’t do it unless I was 100% sure. Of course I was 19 years old and not really sure about anything so I started in the business college.
After a year and half, I came to the realization that I wasn’t naturally good at anything in business. All my natural ability was in the sciences, so I changed majors into Biomedical Sciences. I did much better in college now that I was doing something that felt like the right fit. I was fortunate to get into the Alabama School of Medicine. Everything felt really good.
It was a lot of studying and I did well. About my 3rd year in medical school, I did a rotation in gynecological oncology. I loved operating and my father was an OB/GYN so I thought for sure that was what I should do. But a few weeks later, I rotated in orthopedic surgery. There was so much to know. You incorporated biology in with physics. Everyone seemed to have a similar personality as me. It was an amazing cross between being a big nerd and an athlete. I felt so at home.
Following medical school, that’s when the real work starts. First, you had to match (get accepted) into one of the top three residencies in the country. I must have interviewed in 27 different places. But once again I was fortunate to land a spot at a great program. In residency you work tirelessly while simultaneously reading for lectures, preparing for operative cases, doing research, and preparing presentations. Looking back, I’m not really sure how I got it all done. Perhaps it was the three large coffees I drank throughout the day and eating peanut butter on graham crackers between operative cases.
Towards my 3rd year in residency, I realized I was naturally very good at treating shoulders. For some reason it just made sense and I really enjoyed it. So I applied in my 4th year and was accepted to the UCONN Sports Medicine fellowship. Usually that’s the end of the story for fellowship, however in my 5th year I discovered that I really enjoyed hand surgery also. My residency mentor, Dr Matullo, told me that if I didn’t decide to do a second fellowship now then I probably never would. So I took a leap of faith and was accepted into the prestigious hand fellowship at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
Its tough to describe how your entire life just revolved around learning, taking care of patients, operating, researching, etc. I have a strong sense of pride looking back at what all I accomplished. I absolutely love what I do and looking back it was all worth it.
What interested you in specializing in orthopedic surgery? What procedures do you focus on?
I think there were a couple things that drew me to orthopedic surgery. First, I was very active growing up. I played sports, loved working out, and also building things. Getting to see the remarkable ability to help someone get better from something that is causing pain or dysfunction was amazing. I look at all patients and think how can I help them enjoy their life without pain, get back to work so they can provide, or just help improve their quality of life from whatever they are dealing with. I think its truly amazing.
You have a dual fellowship in sports medicine and hand surgery. How has this shaped how you approach working with patients?
The idea behind a dual fellowship was that I wanted to treat the entire kenetic chain. Think of the old kid song where your shoulder bone is connected to your elbow bone and your elbow bone is connected to your hand bone. It just made sense to me that I should be as well trained as possible to treat a shoulder problem but also treat an elbow or hand problem. The Sports fellowship focuses strongly on shoulder (as well as some hip and knee) and hand surgery gives me the ability to treat elbow, wrist, and hand. When I treat patients, sometimes they have completely separate issues from their shoulder to wrist but sometimes they are linked. I think that gives me a more comprehensive approach to treating their entire arm.
You have helped many athletes at every level of play. What interests you in sports medicine and how has it changed over the last few years?
Athletes are great to work. Most of the them are the healthiest and most motivated people to get better. I have enjoyed treating athletes at the high school level where they are still trying to reach their dreams, the college level where they are almost there, and also the professional level where they have reached their peak and you are helping them maintain the highest level of function.
I think that the changes I’ve seen are mostly in how we have either increased awareness or pushed the boundaries. Concussion awareness has increased greatly over the past two decades. Trainers and primary care sports physicians have made remarkable improvements in concussion management which I think is keeping kids and adults safer.
I also think that we have made some remarkable advances on how we treat injuries. Not every injury needs surgery, actually most of them don’t. But the ones that do, I think the products and techniques available today have given us the ability to get athletes better faster and with better return to function.
You live in the Gardendale area with your family. Have you been surprised at the growth of the medical community in Gardendale?
I love Gardendale. I do remember coming to the area from time to time when I was in high school and it has exploded. It’s a very rare thing to need something and feel like I need to go out of the city. I love our home there. The people are so kind and friendly. I’m so happy to be part of the community there.
Do you have plans as a practice to grow in Gardendale?
I hope it does. I’ve had an office in Gardendale for around 5 years now and it has consistently become busier over the years. I’m happy to support the Gardendale Surgery Center where I do many of my surgeries. I hope that the community will continue to realize the quality of healthcare they have in their own backyard. So many wonder physicians have offices in the area and I think it will only continue to grow.
How has orthopedic surgery improved over the last few years? Would it be fair to say that improvements would now allow people the opportunity to improve more quickly today?
I think that’s absolutely fair to say. You don’t “do medicine” you “practice medicine.” We are constantly learning more and more. And that includes new products or medicines. We constantly are re-evaluating how we treat a variety of problems. I think this is very important because people are living longer and longer. The same problems they had in 1920 are not the same problems we have now. Medicine and surgery is a constantly evolving career. It’s a life of learning. I would say the only thing that is consistent is that amazing feeling when you get someone better and they give you a big hug to say thank you.
Dr. Daniel Avery practices at OrthoSports Associates and has an office in Gardendale.