Honoring Dr. Codman

Dr. Ernest Amory Codman revolutionized the practice of medicine across specialties, including anesthesiology, radiology, gastrointestinal surgery, orthopaedic surgery, along with quality and safety. He was a champion of evidence-based medicine and surgical outcomes analysis. During his early practice, Dr. Codman was a highly published and accomplished surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He started the sub-specialty of orthopaedic shoulder surgery and was a pioneer in bone sarcoma research.

Dr. Codman was the first orthopaedist to study his outcomes through his “End Result Cards,” which listed demographic information, along with pre-operative and post-operative data on each patient he treated. These cards also contained at least one year of follow-up for each patient.

Although not well-received at the time, Dr. Codman’s work has carried lasting implications in the medical field.

The Life of Dr. Ernest Amory Codman

1869

Ernest Amory Codman born

1895

Codman graduates from Harvard Medical School and begins practicing as a surgeon at MGH

 *The Shoulder: Rupture of the Supraspinatus Tendon and Other Lesions In or About the Subacromial Bursa 

1905

Codman begins his "End Results" study

1910

Codman and Dr. Edward Martin help create the American College of Surgeons

1911

Codman becomes the first person to publish on rotator cuff tears

1915

Codman unveils his Cartoon at the Suffolk District Surgical Society

1917

Codman volunteers to treat victims after the Halifax Harbor Explosion

1918

Codman enlists in the Army

1925

Codman publishes his first book, Bone Sarcoma

1934

Codman publishes the first book written on the shoulder*

1940

Codman dies of melanoma

The Codman Cartoon

In 1915, while chair of the Suffolk District Surgical Society, Dr. Codman revealed a 6-ft long cartoon he created in criticism of hospital administration and many surgeons. A large ostrich with its head in the sand digging up golden eggs symbolized the patients of the hospital continuing to pay for treatment without fully knowing if they are receiving the best care. The Board of Trustees are quoted saying,"[i]f we let her know the truth about our patients, do you suppose she would still be willing to lay?" and in the background, two buildings labeled "Clinical Truth" and "Medical Science" are separated. Furthermore, different hospital-based teams are shown catching the golden eggs, underscoring their focus on wealth and money over patient welfare. 

Although an insightful comical critique of the hospital at the time, it was poorly received. Not only did Dr. Codman's medical practice suffer, but he was also ostracized from his colleagues.