Giving to HSS

The Legacy of Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus and Namesake of the Wilson Society

Late Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus Philip D. Wilson, Jr., MD

Late Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus Philip D. Wilson, Jr., MD

“HSS is my life.”

Even before Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Jr., came to Hospital for Special Surgery for his orthopedic residency in 1948, the Hospital was a part of him. His father, Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Sr., had assumed the role of Surgeon-in-Chief at HSS over a decade earlier, and their close father-son relationship inspired Dr. Wilson, Jr.’s passion for medicine.

“He was an outstanding surgeon,” says Dr. Thomas P. Sculco, Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus who studied under Dr. Wilson during his residency and fellowship. “Every step of his process was methodical and studied. He knew precisely what he wanted to accomplish surgically and he made it happen.”

Dr. Wilson’s devotion to his patients extended well beyond the operating room, starting with a thorough examination and continuing with daily morning rounds to ensure a good recovery. “You could set your watch to him. The elevator doors would open at 6:45 AM and out would come Dr. Wilson in his white coat,” says Dr. Douglas E. Padgett, Chief of the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service who also studied under Dr. Wilson as a surgical resident.

“From the very first time I made rounds with Dr. Wilson I saw the care he took with his patients,” says Mary Birnbaum, Dr. Wilson’s office manager for over 60 years. “If a patient had a bad hip, he not only examined the hip, he found out about them as an individual; they were a whole person to him, not just a hip.”

As his surgical practice grew, Dr. Wilson rose as a visionary leader – he was a founding member of The Hip Society (1968), Surgeon-in-Chief at HSS (1972-89), and President of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (1972).

“Dr. Wilson had an eye toward new technologies and new approaches,” says Dr. Padgett.

In 1967, Dr. Wilson introduced the total hip replacement to HSS, a new surgical procedure he learned while visiting a hospital in the United Kingdom. His global view raised the caliber of care at HSS: Dr. Wilson encouraged physicians to bring different perspectives back to the Hospital and emphasized recruiting the most talented people to join HSS from around the world.

As Surgeon-in-Chief, Dr. Wilson implemented and promoted new specialized clinical services based on anatomy and condition. “Dr. Wilson saw that a better way to take care of patients was having an area of expertise,” says Dr. Sculco. “Dr. Wilson was the visionary, and we led the world in specialization because of him.”

“To a large extent, Dr. Wilson had the greatest influence on who we are as a Hospital.”
– Thomas P. Sculco, MD

At the same time, Dr. Wilson recruited engineers to collaborate on the design of joint implants. Dr. Timothy M. Wright, Director of the Department of Biomechanics, joined the nascent biomechanics department 40 years ago, with Dr. Wilson as his surgeon collaborator. “The success of implants designed here and our reputation as ‘the place’ for joint replacement reflect Dr. Wilson’s support of research and biomechanics,” says Dr. Wright. In the mid-1970s, a team at HSS developed the first modern knee replacement, and today, the partnership between surgeons, engineers, and scientists continues to drive the innovative research that is a hallmark of HSS.

While Surgeon-in-Chief, Dr. Wilson also held the title of Director of Resident Training, and he elevated the program to one of national renown. His commitment, empathy, ethics, and surgical abilities set the standard for the residents’ training and future practice. “His detailed preparation for surgery allowed for the execution of complex procedures in a seamless fashion, but he never forgot the importance of demonstrating care and compassion,” says Dr. Padgett. “Dr. Wilson defines excellence in orthopedics.”

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