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Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever?

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The following is a guest post from Harold DeMonaco, one of our expert story reviewers on  He is Director of the Innovation Support Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital.


An orthopedic colleague recently provided me with a wonderful article from the British Medical Journal.  The editors of the Journal have a penchant for publishing humorous articles.  Here are a couple of examples:

Image credit: Clive Featherstone on

Last week they provided us with yet another provocative study entitled, “Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study.” The title alone is sufficient to garner the interest of just about any clinician.

The study compared the grip strength and intelligence quotient of two groups of physicians, orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists.  The study was prompted by a comment made over the operating room table by an anesthesiologist that reflected badly on the intelligence of his orthopedic surgeon colleague.  The authors examined the grip strength of 36 orthopedic surgeons and 40 anesthesiologists.  Given the stereotype, it was not surprising that the orthopedic surgeons had significantly great grip strength that their colleague anesthesiologist.  What is unclear is if this is related to an occupational difference (orthopedic surgeons play with saws, drills and hammers; anesthesiologists with intravenous catheters and syringe) or inherent physical prowess.  It should be noted that 6 female anesthesiologists were originally entered into this phase of the study but their data was not used in the analysis of grip strength due to a lack of sufficient number of female orthopedic surgeons.

As I noted, the study also looked at the relative intelligence level of both groups using a standardized instrument.  Much to the chagrin of most members of the anesthesia community and to the delight of the orthopedic community, orthopedic surgeons appear to have significantly higher IQ’s than anesthesiologists (at least based on the sample collected).  Even more interesting was the median IQ of both groups.  Orthopedic surgeons had a median IQ of 105.19 (sd 15) and anesthesiologists had a median IQ of 98.38 (SD 14.85) using the MENSA Brain Test version 1.1.0.  By definition the median IQ of the general population is 100 (sd 15).

The authors’ conclusions are noteworthy, “The comedic repertoire of the average anaesthetist needs to be revised in the light of these data. However, we would recommend caution in making fun of orthopaedic surgeons, as unwary anaesthetists may find themselves on the receiving end of a sharp and quick witted retort from their intellectually sharper friends or may be greeted with a crushing handshake at their next encounter.”

If you notice a somewhat smug look on the faces of orthopedic surgeons over the next few weeks, this may be the initiating factor.

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Susan Fitzgerald

January 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Ha. Love British humor. Reminds me of the absolutely serious and scientific testing of the statement regarding whether bread does indeed fall butter-side-down. (Nope.)