Susan Bukata, MD, has been named chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Health. She is the fourth woman in the United States to lead a health system’s orthopedic surgery department.
“Dr. Bukata is a truly remarkable leader and I am thrilled to have her join our school and shepherd the department into its next chapter,” said Steven Garfin, MD, interim dean of UC San Diego School of Medicine and former chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
Bukata joins the faculty from UCLA Health, where she served as orthopedic surgeon, professor and vice chair of orthopedics clinical operations, physician informaticist lead for musculoskeletal health providers and chief orthopedics liaison to community practice partners.
“While being among the first women to hold such a position is only a small part of why I took this job, it is something I take very seriously,” Bukata said. “Only 6 percent of orthopedic surgeons are women and there are very few women in leadership. We live in such a wonderful diverse state in California, and orthopedics is not a particularly diverse specialty. I’m looking forward to attracting and training students, residents, fellows and junior faculty who represent the patients we serve, and as well as engaging with the local community to introduce young girls to careers in musculoskeletal health.”
Bukata said she chose UC San Diego Health in part because of the innovative research environment, particularly in immunology, microbiome and precision cancer therapy. She is internationally recognized for her work on bone fragility disorders, which range from osteoporosis to rare genetic bone disease. Her National Institutes of Health-funded research focuses on fracture healing — developing ways to help patients heal faster, without additional surgical intervention.
She holds a patent on technology for protecting and repairing cartilage and musculoskeletal soft tissue. She has published numerous research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including Journal of Orthopaedic Research, Cancer, Spine, Science Translational Medicine and Tissue Engineering.
Bukata and her research partners were the first to discover that parathyroid hormone receptors become activated when a person starts to develop arthritis. Her team recently completed a clinical trial that tested parathyroid-derived therapeutics for their ability to repair bone in humans, and she’s looking forward to reviewing the results at UC San Diego and advancing the findings to the next phase. She’s also eager to collaborate with UC San Diego’s experts in gut microbiome — the collection of microbes that live in our digestive tract — to explore its role in bone and tissue preservation and regeneration.
“We are going to integrate fields of research and clinical medicine that don’t usually have much to do with one another,” Bukata said. “San Diego is a community that is willing to embrace the future, and that’s exciting.”
She was elected to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Leadership Fellows Program in 2012 and received an American Orthopaedic Association Traveling Fellowship in 2018. She has been named a “Top Doctor” numerous times by Castle Connolly America, Los Angeles Magazine and Hollywood Reporter, as well as recognized with several Patients’ Choice Awards.
Bukata currently serves on the Orthopaedic Research Society Executive Board of Directors, American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery Written Examination Field Task Force, and Musculoskeletal Tumor Society Education Committee.
She earned her bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and her medical degree at Columbia University. She completed her internship in general surgery and research fellowship and residency in orthopedics at the University of Rochester, as well as a fellowship in orthopedic oncology and metabolic bone disease at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Hospital for Special Surgery.
Bukata said she, her husband and their two teenage children are excited to move to San Diego and embrace the active, outdoor lifestyle for which the region is known. They plan to enjoy the museums and beaches, and cheer on the San Diego Padres.
UC San Diego Health ranked among the nation’s best for orthopedic care by U.S. News & World Report. The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and its program in Sports Medicine offer expert diagnoses and treatments for all types of muscular and skeletal diseases, conditions and injuries, as well as specialized expertise in surgery, sports medicine, oncology, trauma and rehabilitation. UC San Diego Health is the Official Health Care Provider of the San Diego Padres, UC San Diego Athletics and San Diego Seals Lacrosse.
Bukata succeeds Reid Abrams, MD, who served as interim department chair after Garfin stepped down from the position in 2018 to serve as interim dean for the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Garfin had chaired the department for 21 years.