Michelle Caird

Faculty

A Bone-Deep Commitment

An orthopaedic surgeon promotes diversity.

BY KATIE WHITNEY

Winter 2020
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“I’m so lucky,” says Michelle Caird (M.D. 1998, Residency 2003). It’s a frequent refrain of the pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and interim chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. It took more than luck, however, for Caird to become one of only four women ever to be chair of an orthopaedics department. In this role, she feels a sense of duty to create a more diverse department, to support the multidisciplinary work happening at Michigan Medicine, and to honor family members who paved the way for her.  

For Caird, diversity is not an end in itself. “There are whole segments of the population who will never come to the doctor … because they can’t find people who look like them.” Caird sees a ripple effect in training a diverse group of residents, “so we can go out and help more people.”

Caird attributes a lot of her success to her ancestry. Her grandfather was a Japanese American surgeon from San Francisco who was interned during WWII. While in the camp, he worked alongside an army surgeon and met his wife, a Japanese American surgical nurse who was also interned. Caird’s father was a surgeon as well. She laughs as she recalls, “I didn’t even realize that if you were going to be a doctor you wouldn’t [necessarily] be a surgeon until I was about 10.” Her grandparents eventually settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is where her father practiced vascular surgery and where Caird grew up. At one point, her grandparents were the only Japanese American family in town. “When I think about what my family went through to get an education and to be able to live in a community where they were accepted … I feel almost an obligation to take some steps for, in my case, women in orthopaedics.” But it’s more than a professional commitment for Caird. “I have a daughter, and I don’t want her to feel like there are doors that are closed. So if I can open them, I want to.”

“When I think about what my family went through to get an education and to be able to live in a community where they were accepted … I feel almost an obligation to take some steps for, in my case, women in orthopaedics.”  —Michelle Caird, M.D. 

Caird studied engineering as an undergrad at U-M and shifts easily from talking about steel to bones. “Bone is the ultimate material,” she says. “In humans it’s the only tissue, aside from embryonic or fetal tissue, that can heal without scar.”

Caird’s research and clinical work has focused largely on osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a rare genetic disease that makes kids prone to fractures. “Some kids break every time they move.” For others, it may mean having 10 extra fractures over the course of their childhood.

In the lab, Caird and collaborators are working toward tailoring treatment for individuals with OI. If a surgery patient gives permission, Caird takes a bone sample from them, and the team implants it into a mouse. They can then treat the mouse with a range of medications to see how that particular sample responds.

Caird also is part of a multidisciplinary OI clinic with many specialists, ranging from endocrinology and cardiology to dentistry and physical therapy. Four times a year, the clinic runs for a day and a half, during which OI patients are able to see all of the doctors they need, and their families are able to socialize and support each other. For those who have a brand-new baby with OI to “see some of the kids [who are] off to college doing great things … it’s super helpful.”

That multidisciplinary approach is one of the many reasons Caird champions Michigan Medicine and U-M in general. “The quotient of collaborativeness to competition is flipped in just the right direction. We have the very smartest people in engineering, the top law school, the top public health school, a fantastic medical school. … When you couple that with the collaborativeness, the possibilities are just endless.”

Courtesy of Michelle Caird