After a lengthy, rewarding, and successful 36-year career in orthopedic surgery, Dr. Steven Bruce of PeaceHealth is retiring.
“I’m an orthopedic surgeon, which means that I take care of disorders of the musculoskeletal system,” says Dr. Bruce. He attends injuries to muscles, bones, and ligaments, as well as degenerative conditions that come with age. His work takes a skillful hand, a sharp mind, and compassionate care for patients and their families. Dr. Bruce has all three, which has made him such a valued member of the PeaceHealth family for so long.
Dr. Bruce’s path as an orthopedic surgeon didn’t begin in Bellingham. His interest in biology began in high school and spurred a journey that took him from the Midwest to the West Coast, and many places besides.
“I always enjoyed biology back in high school and college,” Dr. Bruce says. “Looking into careers, it looked like I could pursue an interest in human biology. When I got into medical school, I realized I liked the physical aspect of things. I found that when I did rotations or training sessions with surgeons, I enjoyed working with my hands. I got satisfaction out of fixing things. It was a natural lead to go into that area.”
Dr. Bruce did his undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, and medical school in Illinois, as well. “I had an interest in outdoor sports and the rest of the country,” he says. “I was attracted to the West Coast, so I looked for training programs there and ended up doing my orthopedic training at the University of Oregon.”
Dr. Bruce loved the West Coast and decided to stay. He moved a couple of times before settling in Bellingham in 1991. A lot has changed in the orthopedic field since then. “I was trained in general orthopedics. At the time when I finished my training, maybe 10% went on to specialized training. Now almost 70% do. They go on to specialize in hand surgery, sports medicine. It’s probably ultimately a good thing because our ability to treat people has improved. Our techniques have improved. We’re more successful treating conditions for long-lasting results.”
Dr. Bruce’s guidance for younger surgeons entering the field is to figure out early in their careers what attracts them most and in which specialization they’re most likely to succeed. “Try and pick what you think you’d be best at,” he says. “Get the training in that area.”
Dr. Bruce notes, however, that there is a difference between urban and rural orthopedics when it comes to specialization. “In smaller communities, you’ll see more general orthopedics. An orthopedic surgeon there will have to take on a wider variety of cases. But we’re going to be seeing less and less general orthopedics because everyone wants to be good at a certain area, and it will make it more difficult in less populated areas.”
Patients come to Dr. Bruce because they trust him and his profession. “People are accepting of what’s wrong and what needs to be done,” he says. “I see a person who has worn something out or has a serious condition that will need surgery, and they’re very accepting of it. They trust the medical profession.”
And their trust is rewarded. The most inspiring aspect of Dr. Bruce’s work? “To see people recover and do well following their surgeries,” he says. “They can get back to doing what they want to do.”
He also enjoys getting to know and meet his patients and their families. “Sometimes I’ll see a person for his hip replacement, then his other hip, then his wife might come in later,” he says. “Getting to know them and their lives is a good part of the profession.”
That sense of family extends to PeaceHealth, too. “It’s a good team of people to work with,” Dr. Bruce says. “To run an office like this, it takes a lot of people. PeaceHealth has always been supportive of doing what it takes to get the care done. They give us the resources we need to take care of people.”
That means that people get seen in a timely manner, have their questions answered, and feel supported by their health care team.
Now, 36 years after his career began, Dr. Bruce is retiring. “I’m looking forward to sleeping in in the morning and spending more time with my wife,” he says. He also plans to spend a lot of time with his daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons, who recently moved to Bellingham. “Teaching them to mountain bike and ski will be great.”
And though Dr. Bruce may not be practicing at PeaceHealth anymore, the work he has done throughout his rich and rewarding career will continue to touch the lives of his patients and their families.