Dr. Michael Klassen, MD, FAAOS, has a prolific resume that spans decades. He completed medical school at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine in 1989 and is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. Dr. Klassen specializes in arthroscopic surgery and is an expert in medical-legal evaluations and testimony. He currently serves as President of the California Orthopedic Association and a community leader in Monterey, California, providing patient-focused orthopedic treatment and surgery.
What circumstances led you to become a leader in medical evaluation?
After 22 years of performing medical-legal evaluations, I was asked to mentor others and solve complex orthopaedic cases. The concept of the medical-legal assessment is to validate medical cases by identifying and attaching medical evidence. We act as independent third-party medical examiners, providing a professional opinion regarding injuries sustained by an individual. In such cases, relying on our knowledge, years of experience, and training as orthopaedic surgeons. These assessments are used in TORT cases where expert opinions are needed to settle cases.
In the process of formulating opinions pertaining to these cases, including causation, and permanent and stationary status as I take into account numerous factors. These include the mechanism of injury, the type of temporal onset of symptoms, the history given by the examinee, the response to various treatments, the physical examination findings, radiographic findings and the results of other pertinent objective tests, knowledge of pathology and the pathophysiology of specific disease or injuries, knowledge of the overall health of the individual, and other pertinent information including my experience based on the results I observed in others who had suffered similar injuries, my overall orthopaedic knowledge and training as a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon. All the opinions are based on a reasonable degree of medical probability to constitute substantial medical evidence.
Further, it’s important that these medical-legal evaluations address the effects any symptoms might have on daily living as well as current and future employment. Treatment recommendations and a reasonable prognosis round out such assessments. Understanding how these exams should be conducted and the way to write such a report takes practice, and after over two decades of performing these assessments, I was honored to impart this knowledge to others in a mentorship capacity.
What inspired you to become an orthopedic surgeon?
I have a sports background and an innate understanding of what athletes go through with injuries. The most successful orthopedic surgeons have a mind for sports-related injuries as these are the most common injuries that come across our exam and operating tables on a daily basis. In most sports scenarios, any of the body’s musculoskeletal structures can be affected during training and conditioning, the activity itself, or later due to continued stress on a specific part of the body. A solid understanding of orthopedic injuries requires advanced knowledge of physical conditioning as well as soft tissue biomechanics, athletic performance, and overall health. For me—someone with personal athletic success and sports background—orthopedics was a natural path in my medical career.
I love seeing a problem solved. At the end of the day, that’s what surgery is all about. I’m continually interested in the technical aspects of arthroscopic surgery where a keen sense of three-dimensional anatomy is very helpful and practice using an arthroscope is essential to developing great skills. There is always a new challenge or discovery to be addressed.
What does a typical day look like as President of the California Orthopedic Association?
Every day is a little different, no matter how I plan my day. I typically begin by seeing my patients. This involves checkups, consultations, and studying patient charts, and their progress. There are assessments, pre-surgical consults, and then surgery days.
Outside of my patient load, I block a significant amount of time to answer phone calls and emails, consulting with and advising other surgeons who have questions. Further, there are political events that must be addressed by the members and Board of Directors. My responsibilities include planning for future meetings as well as taking an active part in any scheduled initiatives and events.
What is something you do regularly that you recommend other surgeons do?
Never stop learning, collaborating, and growing in your skills. Operating with other orthopedic surgeons occasionally is a great way to see different approaches and techniques. This supports staying up-to-date and open-minded. Our role as medical practitioners and surgeons is to care for patients and to better their lives. Medical science continues to advance in leaps and bounds, and while standards remain consistent, there is always something new to learn or consume. You cannot work in a silo of your own knowledge and experience. To do so is to compromise the potential for excellent patient care. The best surgeons are confident in their own craft but willing to learn and grow by observing, co-working, and discoursing in ways that challenge them to grow.
- The patient always comes first. The orthopedic surgeon’s job is to educate the patient for as long as it takes to achieve a full understanding of the injury and options.
- It’s important to learn how to educate patients. That’s where the connection lies. That’s where the patient learns about their current situation, options moving forward, and ways to live healthier and care for their body.
- When practicing medicine, persistence is vital. Successful doctors and surgeons go to work every day and try their best to make a difference each day, helping patients and improving their quality of life.
- When you really enjoy what you do, you do more of it. There’s no reason to slow down when the work is fun, rewarding, and enriching.