Catching Up with Dr. Bobby Chhabra

Chair of UVA’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery

Dr. Bobby Chhabra is a 'Hoo through-and-through. In addition to being a member of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Class of 1995, Chhabra serves as the Lillian T. Pratt Distinguished Professor and Chair of Orthopedic Surgery, and the David A. Harrison Distinguished Educator. He is also a professor of plastic surgery at UVA, the hand and upper extremity consultant for UVA Athletics, and the president of UVA Physicians Group. You can hear him every Thursday on ESPN Radio/Newsradio WINA’s Best Seat in the House Injury Report, when he discusses everything from UVA player updates to the latest in the NFL and NBA. Most recently, Chhabra has been the champion for the future Ivy Mountain Orthopedic Outpatient Care Facility, noting at the building’s groundbreaking ceremony that “the facility will be the best for musculoskeletal and orthopedic care in the country.”

Q: From caring for patients from our community and beyond to your extensive involvement with the Health System and School of Medicine, your dedication to the University of Virginia is evident. Why UVA? What makes UVA so special?

I came to UVA in 1991, and I am proud to be a triple 'Hoo. The environment here, from both an education and patient care standpoint, is truly exceptional. I’m from Virginia and have raised my family here. My wife, an endocrinologist in the community, did her residency and fellowship at UVA, and she is a Darden School of Business graduate. UVA is just a special place, and Charlottesville a special city.

I’ve been in department leadership for 11 years now, and I can attest to how a collegial environment drives interactions and collaborations that advance our patient care and academic missions. Simply put, we’re a family and we help each other. It’s a great environment for faculty, staff, and for our trainees, and UVA and Charlottesville help make that possible. During my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in almost every committee at the School of Medicine and Medical Center. I’ve learned a lot about this institution, and I have seen it from so many perspectives. I’ve had other opportunities offered to me, but what’s kept me here at UVA are the people and the collegial relationships, and the ability to do what I am passionate about every day.

Additionally, UVA blessed me with great mentors during my medical school training, orthopedic residency, and throughout my time as a junior faculty member. These meaningful relationships have really inspired me in my clinical and academic practice. These mentors have challenged me to be a better educator and leader, and without their support, guidance, and encouragement, I do not think I would be where I am today.

Q: What kind of growth have you seen in UVA’s orthopedics and musculoskeletal programs during your time here? What kind of growth do you see in the next decade?

The musculoskeletal specialty is one of the fastest growing specialties in the country and the world. Similarly, joint replacement is already a common procedure, but it will be one of the most common procedures in the next decade or two.

The growth of the musculoskeletal specialty at UVA has surpassed even that of the national trend. In just the past six to seven years, we’ve doubled the size of the orthopedic department. When I joined the faculty in 2002, I was the ninth faculty member in the department. Now, we have 30 orthopedic surgeons.

This tremendous growth has been mirrored by an increasing need for orthopedic care globally. People are staying active later in life, and they are just generally participating in recreational activities and athletics much more.

The growth has been remarkable in both patient volume and technology. Procedures such as hip and knee replacements used to require long inpatient recovery stays. Now, because of advances in surgical and anesthesia techniques, as well as implant technology, many patients undergoing those procedures go home the very same day without a compromise in their overall outcome. So there has been a dramatic change in post-operative care and rehabilitation, even from the time when I was a resident.

Q: This growth you’ve seen and experienced firsthand—is orthopedic research spurring it? And if so, how?

Absolutely. I can certainly speak for UVA’s Musculoskeletal Research Division—we’re figuring out how to use growth factors and other biologics to improve healing across several musculoskeletal tissues, such as bone, ligament, tendons, and nerves. Our research program is completely focused on clinical translation. Our priority is to translate all research to clinical applications. We have a very robust clinical trials program. We utilize safe new techniques and new technologies—all while evaluating to make sure that patient outcomes are the best that they can be. Our efforts include the whole spectrum of research—we take ideas that require basic science investigation, and we work to translate them into clinical use, evaluate their outcomes, and make sure these advances results in better rehabilitation and the return to everyday activities.

And, patients are noticing our efforts and advances. They’re traveling from farther away specifically for the care they will receive at UVA. We’re the busiest spine trauma center in the state, and our sports medicine program has a very large reach. Also, many of us have unique specialties, or we are experts in certain procedures. Patients from around the country come to UVA Orthopedics for consultation and care because many of us are designing new techniques and procedures and improving outcomes.

Q: One of the many incredible care opportunities the Ivy Mountain Orthopedic Outpatient Care Facility will provide is 23-hour joint replacement. Can you walk us through how that will work?

A 23-hour procedure is considered outpatient because there is no admission to the hospital. Our new facility will include a joint replacement center, where a patient can be evaluated and receive non-invasive treatment before surgery becomes an option. The center will be a one stop shop—therapy if needed, imaging and x-rays, and conservative treatment options like bracing. This is all before we even have the conversation about surgery, as outpatient joint replacement surgery requires a clear understanding of the process and expectations by the patient.

If joint replacement is the course of treatment, the next step is the operating room. The Joint Replacement Center operating rooms will be specifically built for joint replacement, and they will be home to trained staff who specifically do joint replacement every day.

Following surgery, the facility will have a specialized post-operative unit where family can stay in the room with the patient. Therapy can be done in the room and the patient will receive the highest level of nursing care. When they’re ready to go home, they’ll have appropriate instructions for pain management and their rehabilitation. It’ll be a very collaborative and focused service, and will include experts in every aspect of joint replacement. That’s the key thing about 23-hour joint replacement—you need a specialized program and a specialized team. From the minute you come in to when you leave, it’s a very unique program for our area. The entire spectrum of care will be provided within a very specialized center.

Q: How has philanthropy impacted your work and your patients during your career?

The philanthropic support of grateful patients and loyal alumni has been tremendous during my time at UVA. Alumni have helped create endowed chairs, which allow me to support the work of my researchers and clinicians. I’ve also had several current faculty members and alumni contribute to research endowments for fellows and residents. The training and education they received here inspires them to set the stage for the next generations with their support. These endowments allow our residents and fellows to travel to meetings, share their research projects, and receive a more comprehensive and forward-thinking medical foundation.

Support for research is incredibly crucial because, as in many fields, if you don’t focus on developing new treatments, your care becomes stagnant, which means that you’re not doing the best for the patients you care for. Especially in an academic environment like UVA’s, that’s one of our missions—to provide the best patient care thanks to new discoveries that happen across Grounds through collaboration.

The best doctors are lifelong learners, and the best patient care comes from constant learning. Research plays a huge role in that.

Q: A fun fact, or one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’m very passionate about sports. My wife, kids, and I spend a lot of time watching and going to sporting events, and I’m a diehard UVA and Washington, D.C., sports fan. But what really drives me, and what is incredibly rewarding for me, is educating my patients and the community on orthopedics, and more specifically on injuries related to athletic or recreational activities.

This desire to share this knowledge with others led me to the radio show I host every Thursday alongside Jay James, the Best Seat in the House Injury Report. We talk about what sports injuries mean and when you can expect to see athletes to return to play. We actually won an Associated Press award last year for the show, and it’s our third year broadcasting it together.

So here’s what most people don’t know—an ultimate goal of mine is to one day be on ESPN TV or Radio. I’d love to be the official injury consultant for ESPN. I joke around about it, but now with the success of my weekly show, it would be a dream come true for me to go national with ESPN someday.