Five questions to ask when choosing a shoulder or elbow surgeon

Five questions to ask when choosing a shoulder or elbow surgeon

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When it comes time for any surgical treatment, it’s important to find the right doctor for you. In fact, it’s important for non-surgical treatment as well. Every patient should seek out a qualified physician who makes them feel comfortable. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a shoulder or elbow surgeon.

What specialized training do they have?

In the field of orthopaedic surgery, some physicians are generalists and some are specialists. Even among specialists, their training and experience will vary significantly, as there are no specific guidelines around what experience is required for a surgeon to advertise as a specialist.

Physicians who complete a shoulder and elbow fellowship undergo an additional year of training exclusively dedicated to shoulders and elbows, including open and arthroscopic procedures and joint replacement procedures. There are a limited number of fellowship positions available for this ultra-competitive specialty. For a list of ASES (American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons) endorsed fellowships, please visit

Are they an ASES member?

The most qualified shoulder and elbow surgeons will be those who are members of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES). New members in the organization must be sponsored by two current members and must meet specific requirements, such as completing a recognized shoulder and elbow fellowship, publishing articles in relevant medical journals, presenting at conferences, and other factors that demonstrate the physician’s contributions to the field of shoulder and elbow surgery. You can search the ASES website to find a member in your area. Dr. Nolan is the only surgeon in Oklahoma to be recognized as a member of this elite group.

How many shoulder or elbow surgeries do they perform each year?

There’s research that shows that surgeons who perform a high volume of shoulder replacements each year have a lower rate of complications than surgeons who perform fewer shoulder replacements. A surgeon whose practice is focused mostly on shoulder and elbow surgery will generally perform a higher number of these types of surgeries per year and thus have more experience with the procedures. Also, they generally work with highly specialized staff who have a great deal of experience with these types of procedures.

Do you feel comfortable when meeting with them? Do you feel like they listen?

When meeting with a surgeon to talk about your concerns and questions related to your current issue or upcoming surgery, it’s critically important that you feel comfortable with them. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor, you may be less likely to keep follow-up appointments or even follow their treatment plan. Make sure to find a doctor with whom you feel you can ask all of your questions and who takes the time to address them.

Following your surgery, will you see the surgeon or will post-op care be handled solely by their staff? Are you comfortable with their approach?

Some surgeons choose to use a physician assistant (PA) as part of their patient care team, which could mean that you see a PA for part or all of your post-surgical care. While a PA is a valuable part of the surgical team, it’s important that your surgeon be directly engaged with you both before and after your surgery. If you consult with a surgeon who barely shows up to meet you before surgery and won’t be involved in your post-op care, you might be more comfortable looking for another doctor.

If you are seeking a qualified specialist for shoulder or elbow surgery or want a second opinion, contact the Oklahoma Shoulder Center today to schedule an appointment.