In the Spotlight

Profile: Robert Zura, M.D.

 By Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.Ed., M.P.H. 

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On paper, Robert Zura, M.D., the Robert D’Ambrosia Professor and Head of Orthopaedic Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, is undeniably impressive. In real life, he is even better.

Recruited to LSU from Duke University in January 2016, Dr. Zura personifies the philosophy that no one should be left unattended or unappreciated. Patients, faculty, peers…all must be treated with respect and provided the right tools to succeed.

Dr. Zura’s concern for patients and peers is longstanding, with his trailblazing work to ban powdered gloves reaching back to his undergraduate days at The University of Virginia (UVA). “I worked alongside my mentor, Richard Edlich, M.D., on numerous studies on the hazards of powdered gloves. For healthcare workers and patients, aerosolization is a potential problem, among other issues these gloves create. I am pleased that in December 2016 the FDA finally banned them.”

A graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Zura undertook a residency at the University of Virginia, followed by a trauma fellowship at Carolinas Medical Center. He explains, “I played Division One lacrosse at UVA and thought sports medicine would be a natural fit. But once I was introduced to orthopedic trauma, my life trajectory was forever altered. I was drawn to the unpredictability of trauma…and nothing is more rewarding than caring for people at the nadir of their lives.”

Years later Dr. Zura is here to work alongside his outstanding team to reenergize LSU Orthopaedics. But he sensed that before moving forward, a respectful acknowledgment of the past was in order. Indeed, upon accepting the position at LSU, Dr. Zura, former director of Orthopaedic Trauma for the Duke Health System, found that he would be dealing with a different kind of trauma in New Orleans. He became aware that he was stepping into a community that, although rising strong, was still healing from the wounds of Hurricane Katrina.

“I am hesitant to talk about Katrina because I did not go through it,” says Dr. Zura. “Over time, however, I have understood more intimately how devastating of an experience this was.”

And then, with an eye toward regenerating the program, Dr. Zura got down to work. “One of my goals for our department was to restore the grandeur that graced LSU Orthopaedics during the tenure of chair Bob D’Ambrosia and the era of Charity Hospital. There are a lot of reasons to be excited these days, as University Medical Center (UMC) is now open, the VA clinics are up and running, and the medical corridor is becoming a reality.”

But as is to be expected, there are hurdles. “We used to have a terrific private practice arm; now, however, there is more competition. So this particular challenge involves having a healthy mix of patients, including some who are readily able to pay for their treatment.”

“Another paramount goal is to grow our residency program. We already have one of the best cadaver and simulation labs in the entire country, in part because of the stalwart support of our chancellor, Larry Hollier, M.D. And to ensure that our residents are prepared for the realities of life as orthopedic surgeons, we are bringing in legal and financial educators. Also providing substantial support for our residents is the LSU Tiger Bones Orthopedic Alumni Society. They work very hard to raise funds and provide excellent learning experiences for our residents. And our speaking series is very exciting; two of our upcoming guests are the president of the Chinese Orthopaedic Association and Robert Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., an orthopaedic oncologist—and an astronaut!”

“We have trained 70% of the orthopaedic surgeons in Louisiana, something that could not have happened without the input and backing of the remarkable Dr. Steve Nelson, Dean of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. And I would like to acknowledge Dr. Andrew King, who displayed extraordinary tenacity as he shepherded the program through the wake of Katrina.”

Dr. Zura, lead author on the largest nonunion study in history, is a firm believer in the power of research…but not just any research. “We are not engaging in research just for the sake of research. Our concentration is on disparities of care and outcomes. We are creating the first tissue bank in the world that focuses on disparities. Vinod Dasa, M.D. is doing a stellar job of directing our research program and Dean Smith, Ph.D., Dean of the LSU School of Public Health, is proving to be a fantastic partner.”

“On the clinical side, we hired the first oncologist in Louisiana who treats tumors in impoverished patients, Dr. Matt Cable. We also hired one of the very few orthopaedic spine surgeons in the state who focuses his practice on Medicaid patients, Dr. Abe Kumar. Our core faculty continues to provide world-class care at Children’s Hospital, UMC, and all around the region. Every six months the state and federal governments threaten to cut our budget. While we must be prepared for any eventuality, it is often difficult to formulate plans.”

But Dr. Zura is here for the good times and the bad. “I am so pleased to be at LSU. The program has a storied history; we are blessed with an unusually supportive dean and superb faculty. The possibility of recruiting new faculty is exciting, and our partners in Baton Rouge and Lafayette couldn’t be better.”

“LSU is not lucky to have me,” says Dr. Zura. “I am lucky to have LSU…and I am thrilled to be here to face these challenges and opportunities with such an exceptional team.”