The Steadman Clinic’s Dr. Peter Millett has quite the resume; the internationally-renowned shoulder, knee, and elbow specialist, has found himself atop lists of America’s best doctors, and is a a Board Member at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, the Medical Director at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, and a Scientific Advisory Board Member at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, along with a list of other field-related accomplishments. But, did you also know he’s a fly fisherman? We chatted with Dr. Millett to get a better idea of what it’s like to balance life in the clinical and mountain settings.
What brought you to the Vail Valley, and what makes this place home?
Our family moved to Vail for the second time when I was recruited to join The Steadman Clinic in 2005; we were living in Boston (and quite happy, thinking we’d be there for a while), where I was working at Harvard Medical School as an orthopaedic surgeon. I was the co-director of the Harvard Shoulder Service, practicing surgery, teaching, and doing research. One night, sort of out of the blue, Dr. Steadman called me up and asked “Would you be interested in coming to Vail? It’s the best place to practice orthopaedic surgery!” Having worked with Dr. Steadman as his fellow 5 years earlier, we knew what Vail had to offer, and we arrived in Vail 6 months later with 3 young daughters – our youngest being only 1 month old. Our son would come a few years later – a true Vail baby! The Vail Valley is so different from almost anywhere else in the country. It’s a small town feel, with big city amenities and the best orthopaedic program in the world! I especially love the people and the active lifestyle of the people that live here. They are so interesting; they’re young at heart, and they stay young at heart.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and how has the learning process continued throughout your career?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a doctor. My career path evolved naturally over many decades. I grew up on a small farm, and learned to work with my hands at a young age; so surgery became a natural fit. I loved science and understanding how things worked so I was drawn to orthopedics. I had a passion for sports, so sports medicine was a great fit for me. In addition to my educational path I’ve also been actively involved in medical research now for over 25 years, first as a medical student at Dartmouth Medical School, then as a visiting scholar graduate student at the University of Cambridge in England where I gained cell culture, animal model, and biomechanics experience. Cambridge is where Watson and Crick discovered DNA; I rode my bike past their laboratory every day for a full year – I could see their actual 3-D model where they figured out the double helix structure of DNA – now that was an inspiring! As a young student, I thought I could save the world, too! Now my research is more focused on saving shoulders and knees, and it plays a crucial role in improving the outcomes for my patients. I’m particularly proud of my research on rotator cuff repair, and I’ve been able to patent a number of different ideas for orthopaedic devices and new treatments. For example, we patented the protein profile for osteoarthritis. We also designed a better way to fix the rotator cuff. This method, which we devised in the lab over 10 years ago, has now become one of the most common methods for fixing rotator cuff tears worldwide. The procedure literally helps millions of people every year.
The Steadman Clinic gets quite a few high-profile athletes that visit for treatment, how does translate to helping the population you see more regularly in the Vail Valley?
Caring for elite athletes offers us unique opportunities for innovation. There are special circumstances that come up when treating professional and elite athletes; we can really push the limits of what’s possible. For example, I now shorten the duration of rehab in my weekend warrior patients because of things that I’ve learned treating professional athletes. As another example, what we have learned over the years from treating elite skiers from the US Ski team, translates to our local Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athletes, where I serve as Medical Director. With over 600 athletes involved, there are lots of opportunities for research; we’re going to implement prevention and injury surveillance programs over the next few years to decrease injuries and improve the care of these athletes, and we’re hoping that we can study the injury patterns that occur in elite youth skiing so that we can develop prevention strategies, which will in turn (pun intended) make the sport safer. We also hope that our research efforts will help us develop strategies to improve performance as well, which should keep Ski and Snowboard Club Vail at the top for years to come. I love working with the younger athletes because of their great attitude and passion for the sport.
What’s your go-to when it comes to getting outside and enjoying the mountains?
I’m an avid fisherman and particularly like trout fishing. In college and medical school, I worked as a fishing guide at a lodge in Montana on the Big Hole river. It was the year the movie “A River Runs Through It” was filmed – we had the streams to ourselves back then, but the next year after the movie came out was an entirely different story! Locally, I enjoy fishing the evening hatch on the Eagle River, and I particularly like the stretch just above Wolcott. It’s a really beautiful section of the river. This fall, Vail hosted the World Championships of Flyfishing. I was the medical director and while there fortunately weren’t too many injuries, after the event there were some great fishing opportunities. I was lucky enough to caught a massive rainbow trout that was 32 inches and close to 15 pounds – I think it was stocked, but it made for great photos anyways!
What’s your idea of the perfect winter day?
There’s nothing better than a blue sky powder day, making turns in Vail’s back bowls. My favorite first tracks run is Forever with a foot or more of fresh snow. You not only feel your quads burn but your cheeks also hurt from your huge grin! Now my kids are going faster than me – I love the fact that families of all ages and abilities can be out skiing together and all having fun; there is nothing better!