Building A Legacy: Bone & Joint Institute
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
An Interview with
Dr. Colin Looney, MD
· Grew up in Durham, NC
· Went to college at Washington & Lee
· Captain of the wrestling team in college
· Hitchhiked to Alaska one summer during college
· Went to Duke Medical School
· Howard Hughes Fellow while at Duke
· Moved to Nashville in 2007
· Climbed Mt. Rainier with fellow surgeon Chris Stark
· Serves on the Board of Directors of BrightStone
How did you start in Medicine?
Both my father and grandfather were physicians. My grandfather had a wonderful library and there was a book, The Textbook of Medicine, by Cecil, that I would open and explore as a young boy and see all the various maladies and it began to intrigue me. As I grew up and began playing sports in high school (football and wrestling), I faced personal injury myself and that is where I began to understand the need for sports medicine. In college, I started doing orthopaedic research, and after my sophomore year, had an experience while hitchhiking to Alaska where an insightful person on my travels encouraged me to pursue my interest in medicine and it really crystalized.
What makes your medical practice unique in our community?
The Bone and Joint Institute is an extension of the vision of Dr. Craig Ferrell. He infused into his practice that “Every patient and every staff member is family.” Each doctor here at The Institute was mentored and influenced by Dr. Ferrell, and his legacy is tangibly felt here. Our group partners with Williamson County Schools and has athletic trainers at all the local high schools, both public and private. You will find our physicians at all the various local schools. The two schools that I personally take care of are Battle Ground Academy and Centennial High School. So every Friday night during football season you can find me on the sidelines of one of those schools caring for the players. We feel like we are a practice that is really part of the community as a whole.
Do you have a mission statement?
Our Mission Statement is “To improve the lives of those we serve through patient centered orthopaedic care.” We also have a vision statement, which is “to strive to be a regional leader in the state in high quality orthopaedic care while maintaining that 40-year old tradition of treating patients like family.”
What are your goals for your patients?
Orthopaedics is unique in the medical space in that we can really help patients gain a better quality of life. If someone is unable to walk or function properly and I can help them get those aspects of their life back it is a huge win. I like to ask my patients about their goals and find out what they are not able to do or where they want to be more active, and then I work to help them meet their goals. I want to help them accomplish their personal goals and get back to their most optimal life.
What is the culture that you infused into your practice?
It is really more of a “we” than it is “me”. There are 13 doctors at The Bone and Joint Institute and we have built a practice that really models the original vision and practice of Dr. Craig Ferrell. As I mentioned earlier, we strive to treat everyone like family – both the patents and our staff – and we have built a practice where the concern of the patient is our top priority. I also have the best partners in the world.
How do you try and maintain a balanced life outside of work?
Doctors are notorious for burnout because of the strain of the long hours, the additional electronic work we have to log, and the pressures from many sides. Orthopaedics is really “controlled chaos.” People who have suffered a painful injury simply cannot wait for days or weeks to be seen, even if my schedule is full. So as an orthopaedist, I have to be willing to do more and see extra patients when their lives are at a moment of crisis.
So, to have balance, I find it helpful to plan interesting trips with my family and with friends. Those travels give me something to look forward to outside of work and provide great memories when I am back home. I just returned from a trip to Arizona with my family where I went mountain biking with my son in Sedona. The thrill of biking, combined with the beauty of nature, all with my son, was priceless.
Have you ever been close to quitting? How did you stay engaged and push through?
While my work is “controlled chaos”, as I mentioned, I have never wanted to throw in the towel and quit. This is what I love to do, and I have always pressed through. There is no other place where I could make as much of an impact on people’s lives than doing what I do. I am extremely honored to have the privilege of taking care of people. When I’m not working, I enjoy time with my family, read a good book, and travel. All of those things help me to stay fresh so that I can be at my best and care for my patients.
Who are some of your medical “heroes”?
My dad, Dr. John Looney, who is a psychiatrist. Growing up, just seeing him practicing medicine and the example he set, definitely made an impact on me and helped guide me towards choosing this path.
Dr. Jim Urbaniak is the surgeon who steered me towards orthopaedics. He is a true medical hero and an innovator in orthopaedics. He is the former chairman of orthopaedics at Duke, where I did my medical training and orthopaedics residency. I worked in his lab in both college and medical school and fell in love with orthopaedics from his exposure.
Dr. Bill Hardaker was another Duke orthopaedic surgeon, who recently passed away, who had a big impact on me. As a Vietnam F-4 fighter pilot, he was a war hero and someone to emulate. He had an absolute devotion to teaching residents.
Dr. Craig Ferrell was the most influential doctor, as a whole, on my practice and is a personal hero of mine. I am here practicing in Franklin because of him.
What motivates you?
The ability to take a patient from a very low point and bring them back to a higher quality of life is the best part of my job. Whether the patient is an athlete who is able to get back on the football field after their ACL surgery or an older patient who is able to get back to enjoying life after their hip replacement, this great improvement in patients’ lives gets me fired up and excited to do more.
What methods do you employ to keep improving your knowledge and experience?
I love this question because that is something that I strive for every day. Going all the way back to my residency, after every surgery I would pull out a notebook for every procedure and ask myself this question, “What is one thing I could have done better?” I have been doing it ever since. After every surgery, I critique myself so that I am better for the next one. I write it down and change because of it. I also ask the members of my surgical team the same question and catalogue their valuable input. It is this constant desire to be better tomorrow than I am today that drives my daily experience to one of improvement and refinement.
In what ways do you hope to see practicing medicine evolve in the future?
We are at a watershed moment in medicine where the regulatory necessity of EMR (electronic medical record systems) are keeping doctors from spending as much time as we would like with our patients, and the additional workload of EMR is causing a great amount of burnout among doctors. My father gave me a book this Christmas called The Care of the Patient by Peabody. It was written in 1924. The book was intended for new medical students but has a lot to say to anyone who is a doctor. In the book, the author speaks of how technology is going to be constantly increasing, but the doctor must always keep the care of the patient as the core of his or her work. I think that we could learn a lot from this book in the fact that is nearly 100 years old and it speaks to the concerns we face with patient care in the ever-increasing technological age. I would like to see our EMR technology become more sophisticated so that it is out of the way or hidden from the doctor-patient relationship. Currently, there is far too much computer clicking in the patient’s room. If our technology evolves, it will assist us and enhance our ability to take care of people rather than interfering with that special bond between the doctor and our patients.
The flipside of this is that I really enjoy many of the technologic aspects of medicine. I use robotic assistance in all of my joint replacements, and I am striving to implement it in my arthroscopic procedures. Artificial intelligence (AI) will ultimately become more and more useful in making a diagnosis. However, neither robotics nor AI will replace the dynamic of one person caring for another, to help them through a diagnosis or make them better or well. That is the irreplaceable art of medicine.
If you could offer any advice to younger physicians…what would it be?
It really goes along with what we just discussed regarding technology and keeping the care of our patients in focus. It won’t be far into the future where much of orthopaedic surgery will be done primarily by robotics, much of diagnostics will be done with AI, and the surgeon will be required to use his or her brain a lot more than their hands. It is how we safely implement these technologies that will be critical. So I would tell them that the integration of these technologies makes medicine exciting, but taking care of patients makes medicine fulfilling.
I would also urge them to look for good partners – both in their work and in their personal life. I have great trust in my physician partners, my medical assistant, my PA, and the rest of our team. At home, I have a supportive and loving family and good friends. All of these people help make my life – and my work – better.
Who has inspired you in the medical world?
Dr. David Bratton was a former partner of mine who died suddenly last year. He was an inspiration to many of the younger partners in our clinic. His approach to medicine was truly about care and love.
“The good physician knows his/her patients through and through. Time, sympathy, and understanding must be lavishly dispensed, but the reward is to be found in that personal bond which forms the greatest satisfaction of the practice of medicine. One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” –Francis Peabody, MD (1927)
Getting to Know the Doc
Who is the most fascinating person you have met?
I love military heroes. For many years, I had a patient who was an amazing man and veteran of World War II. He fought on the beaches of Iwo Jima as a Marine; I believe he was promoted three times within the first 30 seconds of landing—enemy machine gun fire was focused on his commanding officers. He witnessed the flag being raised at Mt. Surabachi. Once, he mentioned to me that he had an original American battle map of Iwo Jima. This map had all the stains of war and the original coordinates for calling in artillery fire. He was kind enough to allow me to make a copy of the map and it is a cherished possession.
The River of Doubt -- Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. After losing a presidential election, Roosevelt went into the jungles of Brazil with his son to chart an unexplored river. They nearly died doing it, but through perseverance prevailed. The River is now named Rio Roosevelt. Roosevelt reminds us there are always new ways to redefine ourselves.
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. A great story of how boys become men and seeing beauty in a very cruel world.
Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. I recently finished reading this account of the worst disaster in American naval history. The Indianapolis, a naval cruiser, was torpedoed by a Japanese sub. Most of the sailors who were able to get off the ship did not survive the enduring days floating in the ocean. It is a story of great sacrifice and is also an incredible study of error analysis.
Chariots of Fire. What a great story! Keep a stiff upper lip, train hard, persevere against the odds, and you will prevail.
What amazing adventures have you been on?
After my hitchhiking trip to Alaska during college, I had always dreamed of returning to that western corridor and climbing Mt. Rainier. I shared this goal with my friend and fellow surgeon, Chris Stark. In 2015, we traveled to Washington State and climbed Mt. Rainier together.
What hobbies would you like to get into if you had the time?
Woodworking is something I am starting to get into, but definitely need more practice in. I love fly-fishing as well. Eventually, I would like to merge those two hobbies and build my own fly rods.
Favorite Vacation Destination?
Alaska and New Zealand are the most visually spectacular places I have been. I went to Spain with my family two summers ago and would say that was our best family vacation.
Favorite Restaurants in Nashville?
Red Pony in Franklin. 404 Kitchen in Nashville. Sperry’s is always a favorite too.
Among your friends, what are you best known for?
Getting outside! I love fishing, hunting, and hiking.
Tell us about your family-
I have been happily married to my wife Mary for 14 years. We have two children, Boyd and Virginia. Boyd is 11 and is an athlete, a great student, and just a wonderful boy. Virginia is 7 and is sweet and loving and has more imagination than any author I have read. Mary is my rock and keeps me together in every way. I am a very fortunate husband and father.