A passion for educating orthopaedic patients about their diagnosis
Hand and elbow specialist Dr. Patrick Johnston takes the time to help his patients understand their injuries to prevent future problems
Brought to you by Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute
Originally from Michigan, Dr. Johnston lived in Chicago for several years while he attended medical school and completed his orthopaedic residency training with Midwestern University. His training in Chicago exposed him to significant orthopaedic trauma at four Level I trauma centers. He then moved to Dayton, Ohio, to spend an additional year at a regional hand center to perform fellowship training on hand, elbow and microvascular surgery. His practice focus is on providing comprehensive care for ailments from the fingertips to the elbow, as well as treating fractures throughout the body
For more information about Dr. Johnston or to book an appointment, visit steamboatortho.com or call 970-879-6663.
Dr. Patrick Johnston was drawn to orthopaedic surgery because of the immediate, tangible results it delivers to both patients and physicians — something not universal across all medical professions.
“When I fix a fracture, I see the broken bones at the start of the surgery, and at the end, I can see that the fracture has been fixed and is well aligned. It is instant gratification,” Dr. Johnston said. “Going through medical school, I found that more satisfying to me than adjusting medications and watching for a response.”
Dr. Johnston, a partner at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute (SOSI), is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon who is fellowship trained in hand and elbow orthopaedic surgery. Initially, he thought he’d focus his career path toward cardiothoracic surgery — procedures of the heart, lungs, esophagus and other chest organs — but exposure to orthopaedics changed his trajectory.
“When I spent some time working under Dr. Eric Heiden and saw his involvement with the U.S. speedskating team, I decided orthopaedic surgery was the specialty for me,” Dr. Johnston said.
Specializing in hand, elbow and microvascular surgery
After being exposed to various subspecialties within orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Johnston gravitated toward hand surgery, which is unique “since it incorporates aspects of orthopaedic surgery, vascular surgery, plastic surgery and neurosurgery.”
The meticulous nature of hand surgery requires the attention to fine details that Dr. Johnston said fits well with his personality.
“By learning all of these different aspects to surgery, I felt that it would make me a better surgeon overall,” he said.
After deciding to subspecialize in hand and elbow surgery, he completed a year in fellowship training at a regional hand center in Dayton, Ohio.
Performing the latest advancements in surgery
As one of only a few surgeons in the region trained to perform endoscopic carpal tunnel releases, Dr. Johnston is proud of the results this procedure delivers to patients — mainly its six-day-quicker-return-to-work time frame versus a traditional open carpal tunnel release, and its reduction in pain.
“I think the biggest factor of why I prefer this technique is that by keeping the incision out of the palm, I am able to release both the patient’s right and left wrists in the same surgery if needed, whereas with a traditional open carpal tunnel release, where I leave two weeks in between surgeries,” he said. “The surgery takes about the same amount of time as a traditional open carpal tunnel release, about 5 minutes per wrist.”
Dr. Johnston is also trained in WALANT surgery, which stands for “wide-awake local anesthetic, no tourniquet.” This type of hand surgery is done using just local anesthesia. The technique allows him to perform surgeries in the office procedure room rather than an operating room, saving the patient and insurance companies money.
“It also makes a much nicer experience for the patient when they don’t have to go under anesthesia, don’t have to avoid eating or drinking, and can listen to music and talk with me,” he said.
Dr. Johnston can test tendon repairs and other surgeries prior to closing the incision, which he said allows for a more-aggressive therapy and quicker recovery.
“For me, surgeries with an awake patient is more fun because it allows me to learn more about my patient,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people while doing their surgery.”
Passion for teaching
Dr. Johnston recognizes he wouldn’t be where he is today without so many great teachers along the way. He remains committed to continuing education as a physician, has authored multiple publications and has guest lectured around the country. Also, he was honored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism and Excellence in Teaching.
Dr. Johnston notes that teaching is part of the Hippocratic oath — one of the oldest binding documents in history and held sacred by physicians — because it is critical to the advancement of medicine as a field.
“This is why SOSI physicians,” he said, “are working with residents from UCHealth’s Fort Collins Family Medicine Residency program, to teach them so they can have the knowledge to treat their patients and teach others.”
Teaching is also an important part of treatment. It allows patients and their families to make educated decisions about their care.
“A patient educated on a diagnosis may even be able to take steps to prevent future problems from arising,” Dr. Johnston said.
A love for Steamboat
After moving with his family to Steamboat in 2016, Dr. Johnston and his family felt right at home. They liked it so much that his parents, aunt, sister and her twin babies have relocated here, too. The mountains and outdoor opportunities were part of the allure, but one of the most important factors that helped smooth the transition was the Yampa Valley Autism Program (YVAP).
“Xavier, my 14-year-old stepson, has autism,” Dr. Johnston said. “The resources provided by YVAP provide Xavier the support he needs in school and with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, as well, integrating into the community as he gets older.”
Dr. Johnston said Steamboat and surrounding communities welcomed his family with open arms. That embrace has enhanced the gratification he finds through his daily work treating orthopaedic injuries.
“Patients have had me over for lunch, brought me baked goods and bottles of wine, introduced me to their families, and greeted me with hugs. People have treated me and my family like an extension of theirs since the first day we got here,” he said. “I have always been told that being a physician would be a rewarding career, but I never understood how rewarding until practicing medicine in northwest Colorado.”
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