Orthopaedic surgery as a specialty was not practised in New Zealand until the First World War. Early in 1918 arrangements in Christchurch were made to receive the first orthopaedic casualties returning from Europe. At the same time military hospitals were set up in Rotorua, Trentham and Auckland. Six men Wylie, White, Mill, Ulrich, Wallis and Gower were considered New Zealand's first Orthopaedic surgeons. In June 1919 over 4,800 service patients were being treated in military hospitals but by 1922 the number had fallen to less than 1,000. Civilian orthopaedic surgery followed on from this initial military focus.
The New Zealand Orthopaedic Association was formed in 1950. The association has been in existence ever since and has grown in structure and stature. The first Annual Scientific Meeting was held at Christchurch Hospital on 21 and 22 September 1950. One of the issues of concern then was the number of Orthopaedic surgeons in smaller areas and this remains today. To provide a quality cover three surgeons is the bare minimum.
One of the most important initiatives that the Association has been responsible for is working with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) to develop the orthopaedic training programme. The training which is undertaken over five years has an excellent reputation and positions are keenly sought. There is considerable debate about the number of trainees as when times are booming there are not enough New Zealand trained orthopaedic surgeons to fill all vacancies and overseas trained orthopaedic surgeons immigrate to New Zealand. On the other hand when times are tighter our young Fellows tell us they struggle to get a consultancy appointment. This debate is likely to continue as more surgeons work for longer as they are fit and healthy and their experience is high. Nevertheless demand for orthopaedic surgery is increasing and will continue as the population ages.
Research is an essential aspect of the profession and while scientific observation and practise is very important so too is the “art of orthopaedic surgery”. The two, art and science, need to be married together as Henry Thomas over 120 years ago claimed “The crying evil of our art in these times is the fact that much of our surgery is too mechanical, our medical practice too chemical and there is a hankering to interfere which thwarts the inherent tendency to recovery possessed by all persons not actually dying”. He added however “that there are actions which nature cannot do so well as the artist in charge” (Hooker, 1996, 140).
International networks of orthopaedic surgeons were a founding philosophy of the association and this continues to the present day. The Carousel of Presidents is an important aspect for every President. Substantial travel is undertaken to attend the annual scientific meetings of these associations by the President or President Elect to develop and promulgate internationally consistent guidelines. This has been one of the strengths of the international orthopaedic community. Associated with this has been the development of travelling Fellow scholarships; ABC Fellowship, Hong Kong Young Ambassador, ASEAN Fellow, Korean Fellow, ANZAC Fellow and ANZAC Travelling Fellow. These are important aspects of the NZOA whereby young leaders can be developed as part of succession planning for the presidential line.