More than 30 years after his time as a research analyst at Charles R. Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, Don P. Sanders, MD, still remembers the conversation that made him decide to pursue a career in medicine. "I met the chairman of the department, [and] he convinced me to go to medical school," Sanders recalls. "One of the things he said to me was to become as successful as I can, then come back and teach and help support the community." That influential chairman later became known as surgeon general David Satcher, and Sanders never forgot his pivotal advice.
After completing medical school at UCLA, Sanders went on to an internship at the University of Washington and a residency at the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. But it wasn't until 1989, when he moved to the South Bay, that Sanders found his true home. He quickly fell in love with the climate and the diversity of the area, and he can frequently be spotted grabbing a bite at the Depot Restaurant in downtown Torrance or taking a stroll in Manhattan Beach. "There are so many things to do here," he says. "I like that."
Sanders' home-away-from-home is Torrance Memorial Medical Center, a facility which he believes to be at the forefront of new developments in orthopedic medicine. "They have been very good at working with me on developing specialized surgeries and techniques," Sanders asserts. One of these techniques is the unique direct anterior hip replacement, a minimally invasive procedure that replaces the joint without causing excessive muscle damage. And with the help of his colleagues at South Bay Orthopaedic Specialists Medical Center, Sanders plans to continue to expand and grow the capabilities for orthopedic surgery at Torrance Memorial.
"We are fortunate that Dr. Sanders is on staff at Torrance Memorial. Not only is he an excellent physician, but he is also an innovator in the area of joint replacement surgery," says John McNamara, MD, chief medical officer at Torrance Memorial. "In 2004, he brought to us a new method of hip replacement using an incision in the front of the hip-the anterior approach. Since there is less tissue disruption with the approach, patients have a more rapid recovery."
Sanders never forgot the advice he was given all those years ago. He continues to be a strong advocate for education for health professionals, and he now teaches his joint replacement techniques to other orthopedic surgeons. "Medicine is a learning environment," Sanders claims. "If you're not learning, you're stagnant, and that's not good."
He has also taken a variety of academic appointments over the years, even going on to fill his old mentor's shoes as chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at Charles R. Drew. "Coming back and becoming part of the department, being able to support a residency program as well as work in the hospital was one of the highlights of my career," he says.
In addition to teaching, Sanders feels it is crucial for medical professionals to give back to their local communities. Several times a year, Sanders volunteers with Team Heal (teamheal.org), an organization that gives physical exams and access to health care for underprivileged children in inner cities. He is also a member of the UCLA Black Alumni Association, a group that helps provide scholarships and opportunities for African American graduates.
When he isn't in the O.R., Sanders can be found jet-setting off on a European vacation or simply catching up on the latest Laker's game. "I'm a big sports fan," he enthuses. Yet Sanders admits that the main focus of his life is really his work, especially when it comes to his patients. "[When they] tell you how you've affected and improved their life, it's very rewarding," he says.