Dr. Cari Cordell Blazes Path as Female Orthopedic Surgeon

As seen in HER Magazine


Dr. Cari Cordell sat down with HER Magazine for an in-depth Q&A. As the only female orthopedic surgeon with CHI St. Vincent Orthopedic Clinic in Hot Springs, she is blazing her own trail as an orthopedic surgeon.

She graduated from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 2009 and completed a hand fellowship in Chicago and a shoulder fellowship in Georgia before taking a job at CHI St. Vincent as an orthopedic surgeon in 2011. Dr. Cordell is the only female orthopedic surgeon in Hot Springs and the only female orthopedic surgeon in the state of Arkansas who is fellowship-trained in both hand and shoulder.

What does an orthopedic surgeon do?

Typically, an orthopedic surgeon does trauma bone injuries, broken bones, and, with the elective surgeries that we do, it’s, for myself, upper extremity, so rotator cuff surgeries and tennis elbow surgeries, and then little things in hands like carpal tunnel surgery, trigger fingers, wrist arthritis, fractures of the wrist, broken bones in the hand. There are only probably 10 or 15 people in the whole country that are double fellowship-trained in both hand and shoulder. Most people do just one fellowship but I did two just so I could do the whole upper extremity.

What made you get into orthopedics?

When I started medical school I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. Everybody in the class kind of goes down two different pathways: one pathway is medicine, so the general practitioners and cardiologists and medical doctors, and the other half of us usually go into some sort of surgery. So I narrowed it down; I knew I wanted to do surgery from the beginning. And then after going through all the sub specialties, orthopedics was my favorite. Most of the patients are really healthy and want to get back to sports, and it was just fun. It’s fun to take care of patients who are involved in traumas and you get to fix broken bones, lots of equipment, cool stuff to do.

Are any of your family members doctors?

No. My aunt is a nurse. She teaches nursing school at Baptist in Little Rock and she’s the one that, since I was 3-4 years old, she’s the one that said, ‘You’re going to be a doctor,’ so I joke and say that she pretty much brainwashed me into being a doctor. So she’s the only one that is in the medical profession; there are no doctors.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I would say doing surgeries and improving patients’ quality of life. They could be up all night with numbness and tingling in the hand and miserable because they can’t sleep because they have a rotator cuff tear, and doing surgery and giving them their life back and to return to all their activities. So just taking care of patients and giving them their qualify of life back.

Is there anything you dislike doing?

Not really. I have two small children, two little girls, 6 and 7, and I miss them. It’s a lot of long hours and being on call on the weekends and I miss my time playing with them and I miss gymnastics. I miss them, but I love my job. There’s nothing else I would rather do.

What are some of your other challenges?

Out of all the orthopedic surgeons in the country, last time I checked, only 6 percent are women, so there’s not very many women that do orthopedics and most women that are in orthopedics do pediatrics or hands. I take general orthopedic calls and so I still do leg fractures and tibias and hip fractures. So I think that sometimes it’s physically demanding. It can be done, but physically sometimes it’s demanding.

What do you think is different about being a female rather than a male in this profession?

I think that just the general population and people in the community and in this doctor profession, most people think I’m a nurse because I’m a female. It doesn’t bother me. Somebody at Starbucks was like, ‘You’re my third nurse today, you must be headed in,’ and it’s fine. That’s just a stereotype that is completely and totally normal.

When I was in residency there were two girls out of 22, and so most of the guys treated us with respect, but not only respect, they were almost protective. It was like having 20 brothers. They were protective just with other services and general surgery and all that. They took care of the girls, kind of like a big brother-type situation.

What advice would you give to another woman who wants to be in orthopedics?

My biggest advice would be don’t ever give up. Don’t ever feel like you’re inferior or you can’t do something just because you’re a female. When I decided to do orthopedics I knew that it was going to be physically challenging but not impossible. So, if someone came to me and said they wanted to do orthopedics and they were female, I would strongly encourage it. I absolutely love what I do; I cannot imagine doing anything other than orthopedics.

What does your family consist of?

I’m a single mom, which makes things incredibly time constraining. Madeline is the older one, she’s 7, and Meredith just turned 6. They both go to Lakeside, they’re in kindergarten and second grade. They love going out in the boat, they love to go bowling, they love to go eat ice cream anywhere, any time. We take a vacation every year; they love going to the beach. They enjoy playing outside and just riding bikes and going to parks. They love going downtown to the toy store.

My parents live really close; my mom and dad have been priceless in helping me take care of them. If I’m on call and have to go in at midnight my mom comes down and stays with them, so she’s on call every time I’m on call. Their dad is a physician, too, so we both understand each other’s schedules and work together very well to take care of them.

Learn more about Dr. Cari Cordell or CHI St. Vincent Orthopedic Clinic - Hot Springs.