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The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Cari Cordell Story by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn

Never give up: Cordell blazes path as fe­male or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon

Dr. Cari Cordell grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Arkansas in Lit­tle Rock in 2009 and com­pleted a hand fel­low­ship in Chicago and a shoul­der fel­low­ship in Georgia be­fore tak­ing a job at CHI St. Vin­cent as an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon in 2011. Dr. Cordell is the only fe­male or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon in Hot Springs and the only fe­male or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon in the state of Arkansas who is fel­low­ship-trained in both hand and shoul­der.

De­scribe what an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon does.

Cari Cordell: Typ­i­cally, an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon does trauma bone in­juries, bro­ken bones, and, with the elec­tive surg­eries that we do, it's, for my­self, up­per ex­trem­ity, so ro­ta­tor cuff surg­eries and ten­nis el­bow surg­eries, and then lit­tle things in hands like carpal tun­nel surgery, trig­ger fin­gers, wrist arthri­tis, frac­tures of the wrist, bro­ken bones in the hand. There are only prob­a­bly 10 or 15 peo­ple in the whole coun­try that are dou­ble fel­low­ship-trained in both hand and shoul­der. Most peo­ple do just one fel­low­ship but I did two just so I could do the whole up­per ex­trem­ity.

What made you get into or­tho­pe­dics?

CC: When I started med­i­cal school I had ab­so­lutely no idea what I wanted to do. Ev­ery­body in the class kind of goes down two dif­fer­ent path­ways: one path­way is medicine, so the gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers and car­di­ol­o­gists and med­i­cal doc­tors, and the other half of us usu­ally go into some sort of surgery. So I nar­rowed it down; I knew I wanted to do surgery from the be­gin­ning. And then af­ter go­ing through all the sub spe­cial­ties, or­tho­pe­dics was my fa­vorite. Most of the pa­tients are re­ally healthy and want to get back to sports, and it was just fun. It's fun to take care of pa­tients who are in­volved in trau­mas and you get to fix bro­ken bones, lots of equip­ment, cool stuff to do.

Are any of your fam­ily mem­bers doc­tors?

CC: No. My aunt is a nurse. She teaches nurs­ing school at Bap­tist in Lit­tle Rock and she's the one that, since I was 3-4 years old, she's the one that said, `You're go­ing to be a doc­tor,' so I joke and say that she pretty much brain­washed me into be­ing a doc­tor. So she's the only one that is in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion; there are no doc­tors.

What is your fa­vorite part of your job?

CC: I would say do­ing surg­eries and im­prov­ing pa­tients' qual­ity of life. They could be up all night with numb­ness and tin­gling in the hand and mis­er­able be­cause they can't sleep be­cause they have a ro­ta­tor cuff tear, and do­ing surgery and giv­ing them their life back and to re­turn to all their ac­tiv­i­ties. So just tak­ing care of pa­tients and giv­ing them their qual­ify of life back.

Is there any­thing you dis­like about your job?

CC: Not re­ally. I have two small chil­dren, two lit­tle girls, 6 and 7, and I miss them. It's a lot of long hours and be­ing on call on the week­ends and I miss my time play­ing with them and I miss gym­nas­tics. I miss them, but I love my job. There's noth­ing else I would rather do.

Other than miss­ing fam­ily, what are some of the other chal­lenges?

CC: Out of all the or­tho­pe­dic sur­geons in the coun­try, last time I checked, only 6 per­cent are women, so there's not very many women that do or­tho­pe­dics and most women that are in or­tho­pe­dics do pe­di­atrics or hands. I take gen­eral or­tho­pe­dic calls and so I still do leg frac­tures and tib­ias and hip frac­tures. So I think that some­times it's phys­i­cally de­mand­ing. It can be done, but phys­i­cally some­times it's de­mand­ing.

What do you think is dif­fer­ent about be­ing a fe­male rather than male in this pro­fes­sion?

CC: I think that just the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion and peo­ple in the com­mu­nity and in this doc­tor pro­fes­sion, most peo­ple think I'm a nurse be­cause I'm a fe­male. It doesn't bother me. Some­body at Star­bucks was like, `You're my third nurse to­day, you must be headed in,' and it's fine. That's just a stereo­type that is com­pletely and to­tally nor­mal.

It’s fun to take care of pa­tients who are in­volved in trau­mas and you get to fix bro­ken bones, lots of equip­ment, cool stuff to do

When I was in res­i­dency there were two girls out of 22, and so most of the guys treated us with re­spect, but not only re­spect, they were al­most pro­tec­tive. It was like hav­ing 20 broth­ers. They were pro­tec­tive just with other ser­vices and gen­eral surgery and all that. They took care of the girls, kind of like a big brother-type sit­u­a­tion.

What ad­vice would you give to another woman who wants to be in or­tho­pe­dics?

CC: My big­gest ad­vice would be don't ever give up. Don't ever feel like you're in­fe­rior or you can't do some­thing just be­cause you're a fe­male. When I de­cided to do or­tho­pe­dics I knew that it was go­ing to be phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing but not im­pos­si­ble. So, if some­one came to me and said they wanted to do or­tho­pe­dics and they were fe­male, I would strongly en­cour­age it. I ab­so­lutely love what I do; I can­not imag­ine do­ing any­thing other than or­tho­pe­dics.

What does your fam­ily con­sist of ?

CC: I'm a sin­gle mom, which makes things in­cred­i­bly time con­strain­ing. Made­line is the older one, she's 7, and Mered­ith just turned 6. They both go to Lake­side, they're in kinder­garten and sec­ond grade. They love go­ing out in the boat, they love to go bowl­ing, they love to go eat ice cream any­where, any time. We take a va­ca­tion every year; they love go­ing to the beach. They en­joy play­ing out­side and just rid­ing bikes and go­ing to parks. They love go­ing down­town to the toy store.

My par­ents live re­ally close; my mom and dad have been price­less in help­ing me take care of them. If I'm on call and have to go in at mid­night my mom comes down and stays with them, so she's on call every time I'm on call. Their dad is a physi­cian, too, so we both un­der­stand each other's sched­ules and work to­gether very well to take care of them.

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