On the Slopes

Winter 2009

An undergraduate assignment with a renowned Hopkins Medicine orthopedist persuaded Andrew Chen, BS ’93, MA ’94, MD ’97 that orthopedics was the medical field he wished to pursue—and that decision will put him on the slopes at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next year as the head physician for the U.S. Ski Jumping Team.

Chen was enrolled as a dual major (in materials science and engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering and biology at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences) when he got the opportunity to work on a graduate-level project with Johns Hopkins physician David Hungerford, an internationally acclaimed orthopedist. “I knew I wanted to go into medicine, but I didn’t know what field,” Chen says. “This sort of opened my eyes.”

Hungerford and Chen developed a laser-based system to evaluate the surface roughness of a prosthetic femoral head—a sophisticated quality-control procedure, useful for hip replacement surgery, that later was purchased by a major implant manufacturer.

“It was an interesting segue in my life,” says Chen, now 37. “Engineering is such a different beast from medicine. It’s so exact. You deal with equations and numbers that have to come out right, whereas medicine is so much of an art.”

After entering Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Chen took additional graduate-level courses in engineering at the Whiting School and completed his master’s thesis during his first year in medical school. He then chose to specialize in orthopedics.

A passion for athletics propelled him into the field of sports medicine. Chen says he finds it enormously satisfying to aid athletes in their recovery from injury. “When they go on to win medals or championships, it’s an extremely gratifying thing to see that happen, knowing that you had a direct hand in it.”

During a fellowship in sports medicine and shoulder surgery at the well-known Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colorado, Chen treated many skiers (including controversial Olympic ski jumper Bode Miller) and members of the Broncos football team and Colorado Rockies baseball team. In 2004, he and his wife, Colleen, moved to New Hampshire. “I wanted to live in the mountains. I wanted to treat ski injuries. That’s become sort of my thing,” he explains.

Chen has published numerous articles in medical journals and presented research at more than 50 forums here and overseas. As one of the physicians for the U.S. Ski Team, he was invited by Johnson & Johnson to travel to China before last year’s Beijing Olympics to help train physicians there in the latest sports medicine surgical techniques.

And in October, he earned the head physician appointment with the U.S. Ski Jumping Team. Although there is glamour in being up-close-and-personal with America’s ski jumpers at the next Winter Games, Chen takes his new role seriously, noting that the forces involved with the sport can cause serious injuries. “Oftentimes we have to approach injuries in ski jumping as trauma cases,” he says. “That requires comprehensive management of the entire athlete.”