J. Richard Bowen, MD
Dr. J. Richard Bowen was nominated for the POSNA Hall of Fame for his exceptional leadership, commitment to teaching, and contributions to the field of pediatric orthopaedics. Dr. Suken Shah, in his nomination of Dr. Bowen, noted that “Dr. Bowen is a visionary leader who [during his 20 years as Chair] supervised the transformation of the duPont Institute to a full service, multispecialty children's hospital…He is a superb clinician with an incredible fund of knowledge, commitment to care and nonstop work ethic”. Dr. Shah went on to explain that Dr. Bowen “exemplifies servant leadership” and has been a “true role model to many who pursued careers in pediatric orthopaedic surgery”.
James Richard Bowen was born in a rural community in North Carolina to a poor, farming family who raised him with a strong Christian faith. This Faith served as his guide throughout life and established his “servant-leader” approach to life grounded in strong ethical and moral standards. Of his parents, he reflects that they “were very hard workers – worked all day into the night” and always made time for Church every Sunday. “They were honest and fair and instilled in me important values to guide my life.” Despite “very tough” circumstances financially when he was growing up, he worked hard and was able to attend the University of North Carolina for college. At UNC he studied Chemistry and more importantly, met Judith – the wonderful women who would later become his wife. After initially considering a career in Pharmacy, J. Richard Bowen went to the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, where he was interested in surgery and felt a strong pull to care for poor and disabled children.
At South Carolina, he met Curtis Artz (of the famous “Complications in Surgery and Their Management” textbook by Artz and Hardy) and his mentorship and encouragement started J. Richard Bowen down a path of general surgery – he completed two years of general surgery residency in South Carolina and then, having developed an interest in orthopaedics, moved to work with Crawford Campbell in Albany New York and pursued orthopaedic residency training there. Given his interest in caring for children he “was sent” to Al Shands at duPont for a Children’s rotation – at duPont, he met Dean MacEwen and between MacEwen and Shands, he was further inspired to work in the care of children. After completing two years of service in the military, Dr. MacEwen offered him a full-time position at duPont in 1978. In duPont, he found the “most wonderful match for me – a great group of surgeons, all dedicated to children.”
In 1984 Dr. Bowen became the Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at duPont, a position he would hold for the next 20 years. During this time, he shepherded the department through tremendous growth. He is most proud during his time as Chair that he recruited a talented team to address the 5 areas in which he thought there were real deficiencies of care for disabled children – Scoliosis, Cerebral Palsy, General syndromes, dwarfisms, and brittle bone disease. When he reflects on that time, he notes that he “was a lot of fun” working with such a dynamic team in service to children that were in great need of care.
One of the annual photos of the A.I. duPont Orthopaedic Team
Dr. Bowen suffered a significant “bump in the road” in fall of 1992 that inspired some introspection and re-affirmation of purpose. He had a heart attack. The day started like many others – two spine fusions, but later in the day, thankfully while still at the hospital, he felt very tired. He credits duPont’s medical physicians on-site for saving him – recognizing what was happening and getting him the care he needed right away. He admits that he only “slowed down for a week or two” after the MI, noting that “it didn’t change what I was doing or change my hours, but made me more appreciative of the benefits of life I’ve had – my wife, my sons, and the people that I have had the pleasure of working with”. He continued to serve as chair for another 12 years until stepping down in 2004. He continued working at duPont though for another 17 years, until officially retiring in 2021. His passion for pediatric orthopaedics though has not lessened and he is now volunteering 2-3 days a week doing research and mentoring research fellows.
Throughout his career, research has been a major focus of Dr. Bowen’s work. With over 240 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters, he has contributed significantly to our knowledge of several pediatric orthopaedic conditions. He is most proud of his early work’s impact on congenital dislocation of the hip – advancing the ways that we evaluate and treat this condition. The most fun area of research for him has been studying growth and working to understand more about leg length discrepancies and angulatory deformities and figuring out how pediatric skeletons grow. The most frustrating area of his research he notes is Perthes Disease – “I worked endlessly on Perthes and got nowhere!”. Even after his retirement in 2021, Dr. Bowen has continued to work 2-3 days a week on research projects with the duPont research fellows – where he thrives off the intellectual discussions and clinical discoveries.
Professionally, Dr. Bowen sites patient care as the most impactful and meaningful role he had in his career. The care of thousands of children has given his life purpose and was the foundation of his life of service. Beyond direct clinical care, he notes that teaching and mentoring residents and fellows has been the most rewarding aspect of his career – duPont was a training site for 5 different residency programs, in addition to hosting multiple fellows per year and having a robust paid international research fellows program. His work mentoring this latter group - the international fellows – had the secondary benefit of allowing him to travel all over the world to visit past fellows, provide educational lectures and ongoing mentorship and friendship throughout the globe. The goal of the international program he notes was to “bring in established surgeons to learn more about research and carry out successful work at duPont to then return home to build research programs at their institutions.” Of these experiences, he has “very fond memories” and appreciates the relationships he has developed with pediatric orthopaedists throughout the world.
Dr. Bowen met his wife Judith in college and at the time of his induction into the POSNA Hall of Fame, they have been married for 56 years. He notes that Judith “ has been supportive in every way” of his work in orthopaedics and that “without her, not of it would have functioned”.
Exploring their artistic side – Dr. Bowen and his wife Judith
Together, the Bowens had two sons – one that is in the field of economics and lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. The other son, Dr. Thomas R. Bowen, went on to a career as an orthopaedic Oncologist. They have 4 Grandchildren – 3 girls, who are pursuing careers in Biochemistry, Linguistics and Aerospace Engineering and a grandson who is early in his college years.
Dr. J. Richard Bowen with his wife Judith and sons Chris and Tom
When not working at the hospital or spending time with the family, Dr. Bowen can be found fishing! In his younger years, he could be found out on boats fishing and doing water sports whenever he wasn’t in the hospital – Being out on the open ocean catching Tuna was how many weekends were spent. In more recent years, he can be found fishing from the shore for Striped Bass in the river inlets off the Delaware.
When asked about his advice for younger surgeons in our field, Dr. Bowen shares: “Everybody has a purpose in the world - identify that purpose and don’t give up. My purpose evolved – start by just trying to do the right thing everyday. Some days are tough, but this is what I was made to do. Choose your purpose and run a good race. Lives honestly, try not to hurt anyone, live peacefully.”
The POSNA Hall of Fame Committee is proud to honor 2022 POSNA Hall of Fame Inductee Dr. J. Richard Bowen!
Biography written by Dr. Coleen S. Sabatini, on behalf of the Hall of Fame Committee. 2022.