5 Things I Learned From Practicing Sports Medicine with Richard Hawkins

5 Things I Learned From Practicing Sports Medicine with Richard Hawkins

“I am very proud and honored to consider Richard “Hawk” Hawkins a mentor, partner, and friend.”
— Dr. Sterett

The Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of Vail in the 1990’s was one of the iconic Sports Medicine practices in the world, featuring two of the giants of the field,  Dr. Richard Steadman and Dr. Richard Hawkins. I was privileged to work side-by-side while learning from (and partnering with) these two great innovators.

"Hawk" came to the United States to practice with Dr. Steadman in 1990. I trained under him 3 years later (in 1993) and then joined him in full-time practice in 1994.  We were partners until 2004, when he left Vail to start the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas in Greenville.

Dr. Richard Hawkins - A Great Man, Teacher, and Innovator in the field of Sports Medicine

Although Hawk just retired this past year, his Clinic is still going strong.  Hawk has trained over 150 surgeons in his Fellowship Program, and I am very proud and honored to consider him a mentor, partner, and friend.

Meet "Hawk" in this video


1. Honesty is always the best policy

“I have tried to live up to Hawk’s stellar example of being honest and forthcoming with all patients.”
— Dr. Sterett

Hawk is an open book with patients, always explaining exactly what to expect, from complications to possibilities-- sometimes more graphically than the patient wants!  Anybody who trained with Hawk or had surgery with him knows exactly what I am talking about.

Hawk has always been wonderful at explaining the details of the surgery to the patient and their family members. I have tried to emulate and embody this attribute in my practice.  I have always believed that the more information the patient has about their condition, the more the subsequent "designed rehabilitation" makes sense.

Because of the nature of the job, It can be hard being extremely honest with our patients at the risk of being blunt or seeming insensitive.  I have tried to live up to this model of honesty and caring forthcomingness as best I could in my career.

Hawk is an inspiring teacher who never stops learning.


“It’s a unique quality to be one of the best teachers in the world but to also continue to display the student’s mindset throughout life.  It’s one of the attributes I truly love and admire about Hawk.”
— Dr. Sterett

Even in his mid-70s, Hawk has been the best student I have ever been around.  He is never, ever afraid to ask a question.  I don’t think he will ever stop learning, and I hope I never do either.

Hawk also excels as a teacher. At every meeting or conference I have ever been to with Hawk, he takes constant notes and is the first to ask questions.  He makes you think….always.  It’s a unique quality to be one of the best teachers in the world but to also continue to display the student's mindset throughout life. It's one of the attributes I truly love and admire about Hawk.

Having received virtually every award possible in academics, it is easy to understand how Hawk has earned the reputation as such a gifted teacher.  

In my humble opinion, teaching is his highest calling. JT Tokish, one of the Fellows trained in Vail (and Hawk's partner) in South Carolina, calls him “coach”.  That'll give you an idea of how highly esteemed Hawk is among those lucky enough to learn something from him.

Hawk taught me to live life as a teacher, no matter what your vocation is.

3. The Shoulder is Not The Knee

“The first thing you learn is that the shoulder behaves much differently than the knee in surgery and rehab and has to be treated very differently.”
— Dr. Sterett

Hawk has headed up the pre-eminent shoulder fellowship training in this country for almost 30 years.  His past Fellows include all of the leaders in shoulder and elbow surgery.  The immediate past 2 Presidents of the American Shoulder and Elbow Society were trained under Hawk. The lead editor of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, our most prestigious academic journal,  was a Fellow under Hawk.  

Regarding the shoulder, the first thing you learn is that it behaves much differently than the knee (both in surgery and in rehab), and thus has to be treated very differently.  

We’ve all learned from Hawk, sometimes the hard way, about the biceps tendon, rotator cuffs, shoulder dislocations and even shoulder arthritis. 

Because the shoulder isn’t as weight-bearing as the knee, arthritis (wear and tear) in the shoulder can be tolerated for a longer period of time than in the knee.  However, because the shoulder is much more mobile, it has far fewer constraints to dislocating, and instability can be much more pronounced, creating a more difficult problem to solve.  

Hawk taught us how much being loose-jointed or "hyper lax" affects the shoulder, and how this fact needs to be a primary consideration when it comes to rehabilitation and surgical considerations.  In a lot of ways, we are only now applying those same principles to the knee ligaments. 

After many years of looking after both the Broncos and the Rockies here in Colorado, Hawk is a master at understanding the pathology of an injury and outlining what it will take (and what the odds are) to get an athlete back out on the field. He's a great man to have learned from when it comes to the intricacies of the human shoulder.

Being a sports medicine doc means we need to understand what it takes to get our patients back to the sports they desire, not merely doing what we tell them to do. That often means keeping an open mind while also staying on the cutting edge of current medical science and practice.

4. Family is Number One

“Hawk trained 30 years worth of fellows, and he can remember every name without skipping a beat.”
— Dr. Sterett

Dr. Bill Sterett with Dr. Rob Bell, Dr. Jeff Abrams, and Dr. Richard Hawkins

Hawk truly believed that we should treat everybody like family. This includes staff, patients, and friends. 

Hawk's own family has always been number one.  Hawk's daughters Gump and Danny are both talented and successful basketball coaches in Canada. His son, Jamie, is bright, talented and extremely gregarious....just like Hawk! 

As I was raising my two boys, Stefan and William, I often thought about Hawk and how he would make the work-life balances that we all struggle with work. The family is so important, and we all have a golden opportunity to shape a positive future when it comes to raising kids. 

Treating Everyone Like Family

All of those us that trained under Hawk feel like part of his extended family.  We have an email stream of all of the past Fellows that communicate with each other, almost on a daily basis. We run difficult cases by each other, challenge each other,  and learn & encourage each other every day.

This philosophy comes from Hawk. 

When we show up at our Fellows Reunion every year, the first thing Hawk does is go around the room, remembering each person's name, their wives name, and usually all of our kid's names.

It's amazing to watch!  He trained 30 years of Fellows, and he can remember every name without skipping a beat.  

Hawk's family includes his wife, kids, grandkids and all of us past Fellows and Partners. While we were practicing together, Hawk and I would play golf together almost every week and catch up.  It’s a privilege to be part of this group.

5. Approach Your Job with Confidence, Skill, and Joy

Dr. Sterett with Richard "Hawk" Hawkins

Hawk always encouraged us to trust our skills as Orthopaedic Surgeons, and to fully demonstrate the confidence that comes with being well-trained, highly experienced, and having the requisite skill set to do the job well.

I think that's a great thing to remember no matter what line of work you are in. Approaching your job with confidence also gives others confidence, creating a ripple effect that can be felt by your colleagues and patients alike. And when you back that experience and confidence up with a high level of skill and training, you are bound to succeed.

Working with Hawk definitely helped me to fully embrace my talents, and to not be afraid to continue to strive to be one of the best. Hawk taught me that my patients deserve my best each and every time.  

You only have one go at this life and career, so make it count!

Thanks, Hawk!

Dr. Bill Sterett

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