In Remembrance of Dr. D. Kay Clawson

Dr. D. Kay Clawson and Dr. Sigvard Hansen
Former Chairs D.K. Clawson, M.D. (‘65 -’75) & Sigvard “Ted” Hansen, M.D. (‘81 - ‘85)

Dr. D. Kay Clawson, the first chair of the Dept. of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, passed away on Friday, March 11, 2016.  Dr. Clawson was a legendary figure in orthopaedic surgery and medical education.  Dr. Clawson served as chair from 1965 to 1975.

Dr. Carol Teitz, retired professor and longtime colleague and friend of Dr. Clawson, has written a heartfelt tribute to Dr. Clawson. Dr. Teitz recounts Dr. Clawson’s major accomplishments and captures his enduring legacy and the lasting influence he had on the many lives he touched.

Read Dr. Teitz's tribute below.


The world is a better place because of Dr. D. Kay Clawson and his recent death leaves a void that cannot be filled. As Dr. Oliver Sachs said in his memoir “Gratitude”, “…there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled. For it is the fate-the genetic and neural fate- of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own paths, to live his own life, to die his own death.

Dr. Clawson had a modest upbringing in Utah as the only child of “older parents.” His father died when he was 14 and at 18 he joined the Navy as a hospital corpsman. Through a series of people recognizing his potential, he was accepted to and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah, medical school at Harvard University, and Orthopaedic residency at Stanford University. Finishing residency in 1957, he was granted a fellowship by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and studied with Professor H.J. Seddon, at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, University of London. 

Dr. Clawson came to the University of Washington in 1958 as an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Head of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. By 1965 he was a Professor and the founding Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, a position which he held until 1975. Dr. Clawson noted in his autobiography My Journey, Genes or Environment that he was intent on “…creating an environment where the education of the student was the most important function, then stimulating and pushing each student I had direct contact with to reach their full and often unrecognized potential.”  While at the University of Washington, Dr. Clawson modified the McKenzie sliding screw and convinced the Richards Company, then a small company in Memphis, Tennessee, to produce and market the screw. In a publication in 1964 in the Journal of Trauma, he promulgated the use of the sliding screw as the treatment of choice for intertrochanteric fractures.  This treatment played a major role in reducing mortality and morbidity after hip fractures by allowing patients to get out of bed and bear weight on the injured limb on the first day after surgery. Dr. Clawson also played a role in introducing to the U.S. the closed Kuntscher nailing and reaming treatment of femoral shaft fractures. Experience with the “K nail” was published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 1971 with co-authors Sigvard T. Hansen and Robert Smith and began our reputation as the “Seattle School of Trauma.” Dr. Clawson also established the first medical school Division of Sports Medicine. Always interested in quality patient care and musculoskeletal education, he trained the first Orthopaedic Physician Assistant in the country, Mr. Ivory Larry and co-authored the Manual of Acute Orthopaedic Therapeutics with then resident Dr. Larry Iversen. This handbook was published in three editions in 1977, 1982, and 1987. He also initiated the Musculoskeletal Core Course at the University of Washington School of Medicine, taught with Dr. Cornelius Rosse, from the Department of Biological Structure, and Dr. Walter Stolov, from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. The textbooks Introduction to the Musculoskeletal System and The Musculoskeletal System in Health and Disease were written with Dr. Cornelius Rosse and were widely used across the country for many years as the standard textbooks for musculoskeletal education.  

In 1975, Dr. Clawson left Seattle to become the Dean of the College of Medicine at University of Kentucky, a position he served in until 1983. From 1983-1994, Dr. Clawson was the Executive Vice Chancellor for the University of Kansas Medical Center. A big believer in networking and learning from everyone you meet, he noted that Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson taught him that the art of compromise could get things accomplished. “If you can get 50 % of what you want and the other person can get 50 % of what he wants, you have a win-win situation.” Dr. Clawson never let go of the academic perspective and continued to publish on educational issues, workforce issues, and diversity in medicine. In total he published 93 journal articles, 9 books, and 10 book chapters. After retiring from the University of Kansas, Dr. Clawson returned to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine as Emeritus Professor of Orthopedics and Special Advisor to the Dean. 

In addition to his impressive academic appointments, Dr. Clawson was chosen the Best Resident Teacher at Stanford, and twice awarded the Outstanding Teacher Award at University of Washington. In 1967, while Department Chair at UW, he was chosen as a 1967 ABC travelling fellow. He was elected to membership in the American Orthopedic Association and was a founding member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. He served as President of the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons and the Association of Orthopedic Chairmen. Recognized nationally for his vision of academic medicine as well as his leadership skill, Dr. Clawson served as Head of both the Council of Deans and the Executive Committee of the Association of American Medical Colleges. For his service on numerous other committees the AAMC awarded him 4 distinguished service citations. His contributions were also recognized by dedication of the D. Kay Clawson Pavilion at the University of Kentucky and the Clawson Orthopaedic Library at Harborview Medical Center. 

In all aspects of his work Dr. Clawson advocated strongly for what he believed to be right. His parents emphasized respect for people from varying backgrounds. He demonstrated this influence both in his Orthopaedics career, in his academic administrative roles, and in volunteer roles after “retiring” in Kentucky.  Almost until the day he died, Dr. Clawson was a staunch supporter particularly of women, African Americans, and pre-medical students from rural backgrounds, serving as a dedicated member of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Admissions Committee, an advisor to students enrolled in the BS/MD program, and a mentor to faculty and administrative staff.  

Dr. Clawson delighted in and often sang the praises of his devoted wife of 68 years, Jan, his daughter Dr. Kim Clawson, son Dr. D.R. Clawson, and 5 grandchildren. As someone who also benefitted from his teaching, friendship, mentorship and 43 years of consistent emotional support, I will miss him greatly. We can all learn from the wisdom he shared in his autobiography: “Look to the past only for the lessons we can learn. Live today for the sheer joy of being alive. Plan for the future to ensure that what should be, will be.” 

Carol C. Teitz, MD