Like Father, Like Son? Dr. Richard Jelsma & Will Jelsma

Like Father, Like Son?

Dr. Richard Jelsma has been practicing orthopedic surgery and sports medicine in Grayson County for 20 years. He has been voted the first place winner for Best of Texoma in orthopedic surgery for all three years (2018, 2019, 2020) that the category has existed. Dr. Jelsma is very thankful and grateful to all of his patients and colleagues who made the effort to vote for him.

He graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, and completed medical school and residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. A fellowship in sports medicine with Dr. James Andrews followed. Board certified in both orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, Dr. Jelsma specializes in minimally invasive knee and shoulder surgery and sports medicine.

Dr. Jelsma built a sports medicine program that serves over 25 of our local schools, and which is now partnered with the Dr. Andrews Sports Medicine Institute at Children’s Hospital in Frisco. He is the primary founder and the longest serving board member of Baylor Surgical Hospital in Sherman, formerly known as Heritage Park Surgical Hospital. It has the highest ratings in North Texas for patient satisfaction and quality of care. It has the rating of 5 stars in both categories.

Dr. Jelsma has twin sons, Nick and Will, and a wonderful wife, Judy. His son Will recently graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Arabic Studies. He accepted a position as an analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Due to the extensive amount of time it takes to complete a security clearance for such a job, Will came home after graduation and decided to spend time with his father learning about orthopedic surgery while awaiting the security clearance. We sat down with them to discuss the experience.

Q: Will, nice to meet you, so can you tell us a little bit about what you have been doing these last six months?
A: Well, I accepted a position as a science and technology analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, which requires a very extensive background check to obtain the high-level security clearance. It usually takes six months or longer before it is completed, and with the pandemic going on I decided to come home and shadow my father to get a better understanding of what he does. I had watched him do surgery once before in high school, but I didn’t really know enough then to understand it very well. I began to get more interested as I went through college and obtained my engineering degree, which gave me a better perspective of what is done in orthopedic surgery, where many of the operations are based on principles in engineering.

Q: What was it like to observe surgery? Did you have any anxiety or adverse reaction to it?
A: Well, I have heard that some people are uncomfortable with it, or may even feel a little queasy, or in the worst case may even faint, but in my case I was lucky. I felt comfortable and at ease, and the nurses and doctors were very calm and professional. After the first few surgeries, it became a great learning experience, where I could see that there was a problem that was being fixed by the surgical procedure. As I observed more cases, I could understand better how each procedure was uniquely designed to fix that specific problem.

Q: Was there anything that particularly caught your attention or piqued your interest?
A: Well, in mechanical engineering projects we would often build devices from scratch, using very precise tools such as lathes, and that would require great focus and attention to detail so that the machine we were trying to build would actually work well. Watching a total knee surgery reminded me of that. Every step required precise measurements and cuts so that in the end the joint would be aligned well and fit properly.

The second thing that really struck me was how in arthroscopic surgery it was possible to fix very big problems through small, tiny incisions less than an inch in length. I couldn’t understand how for example a big tear of the rotator cuff, or a torn ACL, could be fixed without making a big incision. The first time I watched an arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder and knee, I felt totally disoriented and lost. But as I saw more and more of them, I began to understand the basic anatomy better, and then I began to appreciate all of the engineering expertise that went into developing the arthroscopic instruments and medical devices that were specifically designed to fix problems like a torn rotator cuff or torn ACL.

Q: Did you do anything other than observe surgery?
A: In years past, I had gone to the office a few times and observed my father seeing some of his patients. Most of the patients did not need surgery. That was a little surprising to me. But he told me that was the way it should be. He said most problems can be solved by non-surgical treatment, and that one of the most important qualities of being a good surgeon is having the judgment and experience to know that, and then only recommend surgery in situations where non-surgical treatment cannot be successful.

As far as these past few months, I think my favorite part of this experience was going with my father to an orthopedic research laboratory and assisting him in surgery on a cadaver. We did this after I had been observing his cases for several weeks, so I had a better idea of what was going on. We did a total knee surgery, a total shoulder surgery, a knee arthroscopy, and a shoulder arthroscopy. I really enjoyed it. The hardest part by far for me was getting used to the arthroscope. As confusing as it was to watch arthroscopy on the screen in the operating room, it was 10 times harder when I held the scope myself and tried to look around the joint or do any work with arthroscopic instruments. It was like looking in a mirror and trying to do everything the opposite of what your brain normally does. But after doing it for a while, I was able to actually start making sense of it. They probably were just trying to make me feel better, but surgical representatives at the lab said I figured out how to move the scope around much quicker than most people do their first time. It is definitely a learned skill.

Q: Wow, it sounds like this was a great experience. I will ask both of you the last question: what are the chances that one day Will you may decide to become an orthopedic surgeon yourself?
A: Will: Well, I’m certainly much more interested in this as a possible career now than I was before. I really liked it. I think my engineering degree would be very useful if I decided to become an orthopedic surgeon. I would enjoy taking care of patients, helping to make them better, and I could see myself applying my engineering skills to designing new medical products and devices that would solve problems in orthopedic surgery. At the same time, I am very excited to start my job with the Defense Intelligence Agency, so I plan on putting my full focus on that once I start. After that, I’m just going to see how things go.

Richard: Would I like to work with my son? Of course, it would be a great pleasure and I wouId love to do that. It was great to have him with me these past few months. Even if he became an orthopedic surgeon, he still might find a better situation for him than to work with his father. But that option will always be there. My wife and I have told both of our kids to pursue whatever path in life is right for them. Will will figure it out over time. There is certainly no rush to decide anything now. He has an exciting job and exciting future no matter what he chooses.

Jelsma Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
204 Medical Drive, Suite 100
Sherman, TX 75029

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jelsma, call 903-868-8800.