Ken N. Kuo, MD
Dr. Ken Nan Kuo was born on December 20, 1940 in Taipei, Taiwan. He was born in the midst of the 2nd
World War and soon after he was born, the United States started bombing Taipei and his family had to move to the countryside of Taiwan to escape the bombings. At the end of the war, the Kuo family moved back to Taipei, where Ken reports that his parents were able to cultivate a “happy life” for himself and his 6 younger siblings. His father was a businessman who worked in the realm of medical instruments (and actually worked to bring Olympus to Taiwan) and this exposed a young Ken to discussions about medicine and innovation. He excelled in school and was able to enter university without entrance examinations because he had done so well. While excelling academically, he was also gifted musically on the clarinet and played throughout childhood into college, including in the Taiwan Youth Symphony.
During university, Ken was trying to decide between Physics and Medicine, so his father asked his brother-in-law who was a professor of urology at the University Hospital to convince him to go to medical school and his uncle was successful at this requested task – Ken did decide to pursue a career in medicine and he has “never regretted that decision”. He completed his premedical studies at the College of Science and Medical College education at National Taiwan University and graduated in 1966.
After completing his medical school education in Taiwan, Dr. Kuo then moved to the United States for further training, having again been inspired by his uncle who had trained in Urology at University of Chicago. He also had a mentor in Professor Chen in Taiwan who was an orthopaedic surgeon that had trained at Northwestern. At that time, trainees had to first do general surgery for a couple of years and could then specialize into orthopaedics – Dr. Kuo completed his 1-year general rotating internship at Wayne County General Hospital which was affiliated with the University of Michigan in Eloise, Michigan. He then completed his PGY-2 year in general surgery at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Following this, he moved to Chicago where he completed orthopaedic residency training at the University of Illinois, Chicago in 1973.
Dr. Kuo’s interest in pediatric orthopaedics started during his orthopaedic residency where he had the opportunity to rotate through what was then called the “Crippled Children Clinic”. He was able to participate in the care of many children with Polio and Cerebral Palsy and through that work he realized that he had a real interest in caring for this population and solidified his interest in pediatric orthopaedics. His Chair then introduced him to Dr. Mihran Tachdjian who was across town at Northwestern and his advice was for Dr. Kuo to pursue fellowship training at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto or the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. With a sense of adventure, Dr. Kuo ventured to London in order to explore something outside of the US. There he had the chance to work with Mr. George Lloyd-Roberts who was an excellent surgeon, particularly skilled in the areas of DDH and clubfoot. Mr. Lloyd-Roberts would tell Ken, “What I teach you today may become obsolete in 10 years, you have to learn how to think”. During his fellowship year, Dr. Kuo also had the opportunity to spend a month with Mr. George Mitchell at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital, University of Edinburgh
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Kuo returned to Chicago to take a position at what was at the time Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital, which would go on to became Rush University Medical Center. In 1971 Rush Medical School became independent and Dr. Jorge Galante started the independent orthopaedic department there. Dr. Kuo was tasked with starting the pediatric program at Rush University Medical Center. Almost at the same time, he also started working at the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Chicago under Dr. Edward Millar to help build his practice. He also kept busy by serving as a Consultant at the Illinois State Pediatric Institute (ISPI) where he cared for pediatric patients in outpatient clinics run by the State of Illinois. After a few years, the practice at Shriner’s became too busy to do all of it, so he stopped the ISPI clinics and recruited his first partner (Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer) to join him. Dr. Kuo is proud of the care he provided to the children of Illinois over the whole career at Rush.
2Dr. Kuo with colleagues from Rush. From left to right: Mitchell Sheinkop (general ortho), Jorge Galante (joint reconstruction), Dr. Kuo, John Lubicky (peds ortho), Steve Gitelis (Ortho oncology), and Ronald DeWald (Scoliosis) - 2003
Dr. Kuo was very active in research throughout his career and has over 200 publications spanning a wide-array of pediatric orthopaedic topics, especially in DDH, clubfoot and cerebral palsy. When he started the clinical pediatric orthopaedic program at Rush, he collaborated with a bioengineer to start a research program which included a gait lab which was used for both clinical and research purposes.
Dr. Kuo was also very committed to resident education, and he served for 10 years as the Residency Program Director for the Rush University Orthopaedic Affiliated Network Residency Program. He loved this part of his work and felt that he learned a tremendous amount from serving as PD. He would later use much of what he learned from serving as Program Director at Rush to help develop training programs in Taiwan. Dr. Kuo was promoted to full professor at Rush University in 1989. He remained at Rush, until officially retiring from there in 2003, when he decided to leave the US to move back to Taiwan to focus on orthopaedic education there.
Dr. Kuo was very interested in bringing ACGME standards for orthopaedic training to Taiwan. In 2003, the Minister of Health asked him to come to Taiwan and help with 1) residency training as a whole in Taiwan, 2) evidence-based medicine, 3) health policy. Once back in Taiwan, Dr. Kuo served as the Director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Development and Associate Director of Institute of Population Sciences at Taiwan’s National Health Research Institutes until 2010. He then moved to Taipei Medical University as Chair Professor and Director of the Center for Evidence-based Medicine Research and Cochrane Taiwan. He continued his teaching and practice of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at Children’s Hospital of National Taiwan University Hospital and Cathay Memorial Hospital. At the time of induction into the Hall of Fame, he was still seeing patients a couple times a week. Also, although it took about nine years, by 2012 there was finally an agreement to move forward with Dr. Kuo’s recommendation for creating a residency review committee (RRC) at the Ministry of Health to oversee the nation’s residency programs.
Dr. Kuo remained committed to orthopaedic education in Taiwan throughout his career. His passion for pediatric orthopaedic education and ability to commit time to its development in Taiwan increased over years. In 1986, he organized the first International Pediatric Orthopaedic Symposium in Taipei. He invited Drs. Tachdjian, Carroll, Weinstein and Eilert to Taiwan for the first, highly successful course. A second course was held in 1989 with Drs. Griffin, Morrisy, Wenger and Hensinger, and a third in 1993 with Drs. Staheli, Moseley, Renshaw and Oppenheimer. These activities and Dr. Kuo’s leadership helped galvanize the formation of the Taiwan Pediatric Orthopaedic Society (which would soon after become an alliance society with POSNA through Dr. Kuo’s request and encouragement). Recognizing that training pediatric orthopaedic surgeons in Asia was critical for the care of children throughout the region, Dr. Kuo established a one-year fellowship between Rush and Shriner’s in Chicago to train one fellow a year from Asia. They have had fellows from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia – around 20 fellows in total over the course of the fellowship.
2nd POSNA-ASEAN Pediatric Orthopaedic Course Faculty in Singapore - 2007
In addition to the courses in Taiwan, Dr. Kuo led and/or participated in educational courses all over Asia for decades and has taught in basically every country throughout Asia during the course of his career. One thing he is particularly proud of was starting a partnership between POSNA and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create a Pediatric Orthopaedic Instructional Course – the first one was held in 2005 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The course then was held every 2-3 years in other member countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines. Like everything else, the courses were put on hold during COVID times, but is expected to restart once things stabilize. Dr. Kuo is also known internationally for his work in clubfoot and starting 2002, he organized the 3rd through 8th
International Clubfoot Congresses, after which it was transitioned over to Matt Dobbs.
On the personal side, Dr. Kuo met his first wife Angela at a party in Taiwan when he was in medical school and she was a pharmacy student. They fell in love and decided to get married – with the wedding taking place one week before he left for internship. Together, they had three children who went on to very successful careers in medicine themselves, including two in orthopaedic surgery - Dr. Rebecca Kuo is a spine surgeon in Illinois; Dr. Joyce Kuo Lo is a pediatrician; and third daughter, Dr. Christina Kuo is a hand surgeon in Illinois. In additional to these amazing daughters, Dr. Kuo has 6 grandchildren.
Tragically, his wife Angela passed away in 2001 due to recurrent lung cancer (not smoking related). Dr. Kuo is eternally grateful for Angela and the sacrifices she made to bring up their children. After she passed away, he was incredibly sad and wanted to do something to honor his wife. He talked to Dr. George Thompson, POSNA President at the time, about creating an award for a young investigator and Dr. Kuo made a $500k donation to OREF for this purpose. The Angela S. Kuo Award has become a very prestigious research award for POSNA. The list of past Kuo Award winners can be found here
Outside of orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Kuo has had a lifelong love of classical music. He is a patron of the Chicago Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestra – and in his travels around the world for work and pleasure, he often attends the local opera. With his extensive travels, he has visited many opera houses (Vienna is his favorite, followed by London…but he notes that Paris is the most beautiful – an “architectural wonder”). The opera that he has seen the most in his life is La Boheme (Puccini), in addition, he also favors La Traviata (Verdi).
Dr. Kuo’s love of music led him to his second wife Polly. His then partner at Rush, Howard Ahn, introduced Ken to the piano teacher that had taught his children – she was originally from Taiwan and had trained in Vienna. Polly had two children from her previous marriage (Liz and Dwight). Ken and Polly fell in love and moved back to Taiwan for their retirement. Together they share a love of music and life. Ken remains committed to the field of orthopaedics and still sees patients 1-2 days per week in Taiwan.
As Dr. Kuo reflects upon his long and distinguished career, his advice to the younger generations of orthopaedic surgeons is “Whatever you do, you need to enjoy your life. You need to enjoy your work. If you don’t enjoy your work, it’s time to quit that and find something new.” As pediatric specialists, he reminds us “You have to be the advocate for the children. A good doctor is a product of brain x heart x hand. If you have a heart of 0, overall product is 0.”
Dr. Kuo with wife Polly, children and grandchildren for family vacation - Ireland 2017
His service to POSNA began at the inception of the organization – he was one of the original members starting back in 1983 when POS and POSG merged to form POSNA. He was also an original member of the International Pediatric Orthopaedic Think Tank (IPOTT). His POSNA service included serving on multiple committees including Program Committee, Awards, By-Laws, Long-Range Planning, and COUR. He was a Board Member of the LLRS for 4 years and has been active in the Western Pacific Orthopaedic Association (which then became the Asian Pacific Orthopaedic Association with the pediatric orthopaedic section ultimately become Asia Pacific Pediatric Orthopaedic Society (APPOS)). Dr. Kuo was also the President-elect from 2010-2013 and then President from 2013-2015 of the International Federation of Pediatric Orthopaedic Societies. Dr. Kuo has been a member of, and held leadership roles, in approximately 20 orthopaedic organizations, including AAOS, AOA, ORS, ACS, AAP, AMA, EPOS, ASAMI, AACPDM, APOA, APPOS, Taiwan Orthopedic Society (TOS), the Taiwan Pediatric Orthopedic Society and the Chinese Speaking Orthopaedic Society (CSOS) – for which he served 3 years as President.
Dr. Ken N Kuo has been a pioneer in pediatric orthopaedics in Chicago/US and throughout Asia. He has been a bridge between POSNA, Taiwan and our colleagues throughout Asia and has promoted and elevated the field of pediatric orthopaedics across Asia. For his incredible work, he was awarded the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 by the Asia Pacific Pediatric Orthopaedic Society (APPOS) and in 2020, he was inducted into the POSNA Hall of Fame.
Interview conducted and biography prepared by Dr. Coleen S. Sabatini for the POSNA Hall of Fame Committee. 2022.