Practicing Engineering in Orthopaedics
With a father and uncle practicing engineering, it might at first seem unlikely that Mark Gonzalez would want to practice medicine. But in 1980, several years after he completed an undergraduate biochemistry degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he earned his MD from the University of Chicago and started practicing orthopaedic surgery at University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.
But Gonzalez couldn’t stay away from the family vocation forever. In 2004, he completed UIC’s Master of Engineering online program, and is currently working to finish his PhD in mechanical engineering at UIC. Gonzalez casts this progression in the light of fate. He and his father got interested in developing a set of devices to evaluate flexor tendon functioning in the hand, which ultimately led to meeting Farid Amirouche, PhD, Director of Biomechanics Research Laboratory. Gonzalez and Amirouche became friends. “He handed me a sophomore-level book on dynamics, I started reading, and I really liked it.” Before he knew it, the surgeon was on his way from performing hip and knee replacements to studying biomechanics.
Gonzalez believed that studying mechanical engineering would enhance his ability to treat his patients. And although he brings the two disciplines together in his work, he understands engineering and medicine have completely different approaches to problem solving. “In the medical field, you have to essentially process and recall information. In engineering, you are trained to problem solve.”
Today, Gonzalez uses his knowledge of medicine and engineering to inform his specializations: hand surgery, microsurgery, and joint reconstruction. He serves as the Riad Barmada Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department Head of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UIC.
Gonzalez’s family vocational history has influenced even his youngest child. “My son, he’s seven. One day his teacher asked ‘Do you know why it’s important to study?’ And Marco says, ‘You have to study to get into a good high school, and then a good college, so you can become an electrical engineer.’”