People in your Neighborhood: Meet Scripps La Jolla orthopedic surgeon Rina Jain

Dr. Rina Jain, on staff at Scripps Hospital La Jolla, is one of the roughly 5 percent of women who make up the nation’s population of orthopedic surgeons. The Canadian-born, ballroom dance-loving physician is a member of the Ruth Jackson Orthopedic Society (for women) and she mentors students on a regular basis.

What brought you to San Diego?

It was, honestly, the weather. I was in private practice in Toronto for almost four years. My sister was finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto and she was looking for a job. She thought about moving to the United States and considered places like New York and Minnesota. I said to her, ‘Why would you want to move to a place with more snow than Toronto!?’ We had visited San Diego and loved it, so she applied at UC San Diego. I thought, she’ll never have to shovel snow again, I’m going with her!

What is your specialty?

I do mostly hip and knee replacements. When I was in my residency, we were exposed to all kinds of areas of orthopedics — hand surgery, spine surgery, foot surgery and joint replacement — and I liked the technical aspect of doing joint replacements. It’s actually a lot of fun. We’re like carpenters; we get to build and put things together. When I was interviewing for my residency, they ask the question, ‘Why do you want to be an orthopedic surgeon?’ and the Miss Universe answer is ‘because I like to help people,’ but the real answer for me is that I like drills, hammers and screws. I like to build things and work with my hands.

When I was a resident, my attending physician would see patients before and after surgery and it struck me that the best stories came from patients in the total joint clinic. They would come back after surgery and talk about what they could now do that they couldn’t do before. I heard stories of grandparents taking their grandchildren to theme parks, joining step classes, walking without pain — and they were so happy! They are the grateful patients and there is job satisfaction from helping people get back to life and mobility.

What does an average day look like for you?

If it is a surgery day, I’m up very early in the morning, checking up on patients whom I’ve already operated on, examining them with the nurses, making sure they have what they need for the day. … We start operating around 7 a.m., so around that time I will be in the pre-op area answering any last minute questions and then doing the surgeries. Depending on how many surgeries I have that day (typically two or three), that will be the entire day.

What is it like working in a male-dominated field?

It’s been an interesting experience. In the U.S., according to a recent survey, 90 percent of orthopedic surgeons are men … about 5-6 percent are women (the remainder of respondents did not say whether they were male or female).

Why is that?

There is still a perception that orthopedic surgeons have to be strong as an ox and twice as smart. They have to be built like football players and have tremendous physical strength. They do, but a lot of orthopedic surgery relies not on brute strength, but finesse on how to put things together.

It may also be a lifestyle thing. People want to have a balanced life and when you work 110 hours a week — some of that time is on-call and I might be asleep but I’m still on call, so I can do what’s necessary — that’s not really conducive to family life. This can be a challenge. By the time a woman is out of residency, she is probably in her late 20s or early 30s, and those are the traditional child-bearing years. It’s when women want to start a family.

What do you do with your free time?

You’ve got to make time for yourself. I like to exercise, I go to the La Jolla YMCA. I need to keep fit to do my job. Plus, I have to practice what I preach. I’m always telling my patients, no matter what age they are, to go out and exercise. Even if you do 10 minutes, that’s better than nothing. I also love ballroom dancing and I’m a big fan of “Dancing with the Stars.”

What kind of music do you like?

I like alternative, and I’ve been a fan of U2 since I was a kid.

What are some of the advances in joint replacement?

Robotic joint replacements. Scripps is on the forefront quite a bit, because they have robotic knee replacements and it makes things so much more precise. By being able to do robotic surgeries here, we get patients up the same day and their recovery is so much faster and their joint replacements last so much longer.

Normally, when we do a joint replacement, we cut open the skin, get to the bone and use a saw blade to shape the bone and shave away the arthritic or diseased bone and replace it with a metal-and-plastic knee. For me, the most important thing as an orthopedic surgeon is to get it precisely, mathematically right. We’re pretty good at it, but we want to be perfect at it.

That’s where the robot comes in. It tells me exactly where to cut the bone, what angle, how much, so we can put the knee replacement at the exact right angle at the perfect configuration.

In the old days, 15-20 years ago, we would keep patients with major joint replacement in the hospital for two weeks. Nowadays, these patients get up the same day and a lot of times, they go home the next day or the day after. Most of my patients go home within 24 hours. It’s much better for them.

Editor’s Note: “People in Your Neighborhood,” shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! La Jolla Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to editor@lajollalight.com or call us at (858) 875-5950.

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