As a youngster in blustery Brooklyn, NY, Lawrence Halperin, MD, fondly recalls dinner table conversation, when his dentist dad told stories of helping people in pain.
"It kind of stuck with me that he was doing things that were good for people and that's probably where the idea of doing the same started when I was 11 or 12," recalled Halperin.
By his early teens, Halperin has settled on medicine. "I knew that I wasn't an honors guy in history or English," he said. "I was already a science geek."
Where to study college was the only lingering question. He received correspondence from Tulane University in New Orleans that encouraged him to apply for an academic scholarship to cover half the costs. "I applied and said wow, if I get it, I'm going there," he recalled. "I still remember telling my mother that New Orleans looked like a huge adventure and Tulane was a good school."
Halperin didn't receive a scholarship, but was sold on Tulane. He unwittingly started a family tradition. A generation later, two daughters would attend Tulane. Ironically, both would receive scholarships.
The cultural differences from New York to the Deep South were striking.
"New Orleans was certainly a party town, but if you want to go to medical school, you have to hold the party till you're done," he said, chuckling. "It's the only place in the country that had booze available 24/7 with drive-through liquor stores. That's what college students notice."
Halperin also fell in love in the Crescent City, ultimately marrying a girl from Orlando, where they'd later raise a family.
Around the time he turned 21, Halperin was exposed to surgical work that cinched his desire to pursue the specialty. "I got to scrub in with some surgeons and assist them and only a surgeon would sort of get this, but once I had been in the operating room and saw how it works, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon," he said.
Concerning how specialized he wanted to be, he noticed that orthopedic surgeons seemed the happiest. "It's hard. It's a lot of work. And requires a great deal of study, but most orthopedic surgeons make their patients happy. And had good results," he said.
Halperin explains he was especially drawn to the anatomy of the hand. "It's not only the bones. The intricacies of the way the tendons interact and the way the fingers delicately move to close and grip. There's nerves that intricately go to different places: one nerve supplies one muscle, one goes to another and it contributes to the function of the hand. It is a very delicate and complex little thing. I just found it fascinating."
Despite potential distractions, Halperin earned a biological chemistry degree magna cum laude, and returned closer to home to earn a medical degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center. His general surgeon internship and residency in orthopedic surgery were completed at the SUNY Health Science Center and Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. He landed his first job at Orlando Orthopedic Center, and hasn't left. "I've been here 26 years, and in the same house, too," he said.
In fact, Halperin was so busy practicing medicine and raising three children; he didn't have much time to pursue getting involved in organized medicine.
"A friend then asked me to run for a position on the Orange County Medical Society Board - somebody who was already on the board. We talked about it and I did that (successfully) and while I was on the board, I was 'fairly vocal,'" he said.
Fraser Cobb, then president of the Florida Orthopaedic Society asked Halperin to run for a position on the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) Board of Councilors. Winning that seat led to Board of Directors posts for Florida Orthopaedic Society, and Florida Medical Association Political Action Committee. He joined the Orlando Regional Orthopaedic Medical Economic Outcomes Committee.
With the AAOS being one of the strongest lobbying organizations on Capitol Hill, Halperin, who served on a congressional healthcare advisory panel, has become a nationally-recognized voice on top political and business issues in medicine.
"I get exposed to a lot of things community guys don't regularly see. I participate in national surgical safety summits, orthopedic quality institutes, I served on their Council on Education and that's an interesting thing because the way education is delivered to doctors is changing," Halperin said.
In his work with the Academy and the Association together, he has been involved with regulators trying to smooth the delivery of regulations as they come out to help physicians practice medicine.
"We were very instrumental in lobbying to get rid of SGR," he said, noting that "The law they replaced it with is a tough one as well. They want to rate docs on quality, but they haven't figured out how to define quality yet, and they want to bonus docs who give better quality work but they have to take it from the guys who do poor quality so we have to get graded on a sliding scale."
For now, Halperin is excited about being in the mix and is still "fairly vocal" speaking up for physicians as the landscape of healthcare continues its rapid change.