Dr Michael Millis was elected to the POSNA Hall of Fame in the class of 2021. He was nominated by Dr. Paul Sponseller in the categories of “Pioneer”, “Teacher”, and “Outstanding Clinician” for his outstanding contributions in pediatric, adolescent, and young adult hip surgery and hip preservation. In his nomination, Dr. Sponseller wrote, “Michael has trained the current crop of leaders in the hip preservation field. He has started one of the pre-eminent fellowships in the field. Michael is the go-to person for hip dysplasia and hip preservation. Patients from around the country seek his care. He is very generous with his time helping his colleagues achieve best outcomes for their patients. Most importantly, his patients recognize his dedication and have great affection for him.”
Given how closely linked he is to Boston, some might be surprised to learn that Dr. Millis was born a Texan. This birthright came as his father was a military flight surgeon stationed near Victoria, TX. After spending a short time there and in Lake Charles, LA, the family moved to Iowa City where his father began his own orthopaedic surgical training. Following this, the family moved to Toledo which is where Dr. Millis resided until graduating high school. After high school he attended Harvard College, where he was a member of the golf team and notes that, “The rest is really a Boston story”.
He remained in Boston for medical school, also at Harvard. After completing his surgical internship at the University Hospital of Cleveland, he returned to Boston for Orthopaedic residency and pediatric orthopaedic fellowship. This is where Dr. Millis met one of his most important mentors, Dr. John Hall, and in his words, “The rest was history”.
Recognizing a need for better treatment options for the older, pre-arthritic hip, Dr. Millis spent an initial 6 months as an AO fellow with Professor Heinz Wagner in Nurenberg, Germany. This experience led Dr. Millis to start the Harvard Medical School Course on Osteotomies of the Hip and Knee. This course allowed Dr. Millis and his mentors, including Professors Wagner, Bombelli and Ganz, to teach these principles and techniques to surgeons in the United States. From here, Dr. Millis directed and grew the Adolescent and Young Adult Hip Unit at Children’s Hospital Boston. This was one of the first US hip preservation programs and became internationally-recognized as the center of excellence in the analysis and treatment of complex hip problems.
Not only did Dr. Millis bring the concept and practice of hip preservation to the US, but he also developed some important modifications of the PAO technique. Dr. Millis notes that “Orthopaedists are great modifiers. As soon as they do an operation for the first time, they want to change it from how it was described.” Despite adhering to the technique described by Professor Ganz, Dr. Millis and his chief resident, Dr. Steven Murphy, recognized that their PAO patients were having significant abductor weakness and thus developed the abductor sparing approach which is now the standard approach for PAO surgery.
In an effort to understand outcomes of hip preservation surgery beyond those in Boston and Bern, Dr. Millis teamed with Drs Perry Schoenecker and John Clohisy to conceptualize and organize the Academic Network for Conservational Hip Outcomes Research (ANCHOR Study Group) to develop a common language, common protocols, and collaborative prospective studies regarding problems of the adolescent and young adult hip. Dr. Millis’s tireless efforts to pioneer and teach these concepts has promoted the discipline of hip joint preservation to a position of legitimacy and respect within the arena of North American orthopaedic surgery.
Perhaps even more than being a pioneer and a teacher, Dr. Millis is known around the world by his colleagues and patients as an outstanding clinician. Not only as a superior technician but also as a caring and compassionate friend/doctor who is always available when needed. His patients think of him as a clinician who cares for his patients “with compassion, sincerity, intelligence, and a huge dose of humor! What is always apparent is his deep love for his patients (and their families), combined with an incredible work ethic. He is highly confident in his ability and technical skill, but still able to personally connect with his patients— a rare quality.”
As Dr. Millis reflected on his tremendous career, he had some pearls of advice to share with younger generations of POSNA members.
Biography written by Dr. Scott Rosenfeld, on behalf of the Hall of Fame Committee. 2021.
- Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning and learn from your patients.
- Form teams – don’t expect to be able to do it all yourself. Collaborate as much as you can.
- Read these two books that had great influence on me:
- Better, by Atul Gawande
- Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman