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2 Minutes With ... Robert Bernstein M.D.

2 Minutes With ... Robert Bernstein, M.D.

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Dr. Robert "Matt" Bernstein is on his way to Cambodia, but he took a few minutes to answer our questions before jetting off to perform his latest medical outreach. Dr. Bernstein is director of Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery and associate director for Administration at the Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic Center. He also is a member of the Cedars-Sinai Spine Center and Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic Center. 

Why did you start the Mobile Pediatric Orthopaedic Education (MoPOEd) program?

I operated on an orphan from Cambodia in 2007 who lived with us postoperatively over the summer. When she returned to Cambodia, we decided that my family should visit her, and made arrangements to go to Phnom Penh. I also arranged to do some surgery at a charity hospital, the Children's Surgical Centre (CSC). I learned that of the 14 million people in Cambodia, almost half are under 21 years old, and there are no pediatric orthopaedic surgeons in the country. When we returned, I decided to start MoPOEd in order to return and train surgeons in Cambodia and other developing countries.

The program recently received a $75,000 grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities to fund orthopaedics training for Cambodian physicians and nurses. Will you be participating in the instruction?

Over the next year, nine pediatric orthopaedic surgeons and I will visit the CSC to train their doctors and nurses in the techniques and principles of pediatric orthopaedics. We also hope that they will be able to train others, making it a sustainable program. The training will be in the operating room and clinics. There will also be lectures.

We cannot bring their surgeons to the U.S. for training for a number of reasons. First, it is very difficult to get a visa. If they get a visa, they are not licensed and cannot touch a patient. It is not possible to learn surgery without doing and touching. If they are able to get licensed, they would likely not return home because of the disparity in earnings. For these reasons, it is important to have a program that will teach them at their home institutions, using their implants.

Doing outreach to Third World countries is obviously one of your passions. What are some of the most interesting places you've visited?

Cambodia would probably be the first, although I have enjoyed Armenia and Mozambique as well. Each place is unique and the people are wonderful, and it can be very rewarding to help people in such environments.

How has your interaction with patients in these countries affected you and your family?

One of the most interesting things we did was to bring our children (ages 7, 11, 14 and 15) to Cambodia. This was my wife's idea. The children worked at the orphanage, toured the trash dump where many of these orphans live, and my oldest daughter came to the hospital and observed during surgery and took photographs. They were really affected by the poverty, loved the children, and if you ask them whether they would rather go on vacation to Hawaii or Cambodia, they would absolutely choose to return to Cambodia. My oldest is now convinced she wants to be a surgeon and do international work.

What drew you to your specialty?

My father is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, and I used to go on rounds with him and even scrubbed for him in surgery in high school. He loves his work and his patients love him. Because of this, I have always wanted to be a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon.

When you aren't working and traveling, what do you do to relax?

Spend time with my family, and I play a little piano.

Is there something or someplace you have never seen that you would like to see?

I love to travel and really want to continue to explore new places. I'd like to explore more of South East Asia and Africa.

How would your best friend describe you to someone who has never seen you?

A happy work-a-holic who loves what he does.