NIAMS Scientists – Diverse Backgrounds, Shared Goals

April 28, 2010

NIAMS Orthopaedics Researcher Puts Things Back Together

Photo of Tim Bhattacharyya, M.D.
Tim Bhattacharyya, M.D.

Tim Bhattacharyya, M.D., a native of Aurora, Illinois, joined NIAMS last year in the Clinical and Investigative Orthopaedics Section of the Intramural Research Program. He also serves as a staff orthopaedic surgeon at Bethesda's Suburban Hospital, specializing in cases with multiple and complex fractures. Bhattacharyya continues to see patients and conduct surgery at that facility while working part-time for NIAMS.

Working in both research at NIAMS and orthopedic surgery at Suburban Hospital allows Bhattacharyya to balance his interests in the pursuit of scientific discovery with his clinical skills. "Orthopaedic surgery is a growing specialty," said Bhattacharyya, "and there are so many unanswered questions." At NIAMS, Bhattacharyya is conducting outcomes research through epidemiological and prospective studies. His team is interested in "atypical hip fractures" and in reducing infections.

Reflecting on the fields of science and medicine, Bhattacharyya said one of the best things about working in science is that it is an equal opportunity field. Regardless of one's background, heritage or life experiences, if a person can defend a good idea or argument, others will listen. Bhattacharyya referred to the designation of the "Buford Complex," a term used in surgery, that was named not after a famous scientist or tenured professor, but after a third-year medical student who discovered it. "In science, it's all about getting the right answer. There's an equality of opinion," said Bhattacharyya. He contrasted this dynamic with a typical business environment, which often adheres to a rigid hierarchy—good ideas from the lower echelons seldom carry the same weight as ideas from administrators or executives.

When queried about the most rewarding aspects of his job, Bhattacharyya acknowledged that his greatest satisfaction is in the operating room when he can get a bone back together. "People come in with broken arms and legs, and I line things up correctly and I can get them back to walking," said Bhattacharyya. He also enjoys working with patients throughout the life span. "My youngest patient was 2 years old and my oldest patient was 102," he said.

For Bhattacharyya, orthopaedics is intellectually challenging and technical, requiring him to be patient and methodical. His interest in biomedical research flourished at Northwestern University, where he obtained a research internship that eventually led him to medical school. He found his niche in orthopaedic surgery while on rotation in medical school, because he liked working with his hands and putting things back together.

Bhattacharyya's medical training began at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and continued with an internship in general surgery and a residency in orthopaedic surgery, both at the Boston Medical Center. He completed his Fellowship training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. From 2004 to 2008, he served on the school's faculty as an instructor of orthopaedic surgery and was honored with the "Golden Apple"—Harvard's Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program Teacher of the Year Award—in 2008.

When he's not repairing fractures or discovering answers to scientific conundrums, Bhattacharyya spends his free time with his two children, ages 3 and 4. An avid tennis player and skier, Bhattacharyya hopes to pass along these skills to the next generation.