Fostering Leadership Through Recognition

Each year, AOA members select two renowned peers for special recognition. During the AOA Annual Leadership Meeting, recipients are presented with these awards that honor personal achievement and contributions to orthopaedics. Congratulations to our winners.

2021 AOA Award Winners

Joseph Buckwalter, IV

Joseph Buckwalter, IV, MD, FAOA – 2021 Winner of the Distinguished Contributions to Orthopaedics Award

About Dr. Buckwalter

Joseph Buckwalter, Professor of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and Arthur Steindler Chair of Orthopaedics at the University of Iowa, received a College of Medicine Teacher of the Year Award and served as Head of the Department for 14 years and as senior editor of the Journal of Orthopaedic Research for more than 25 years.

He was chairman of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Council on Research and President of the Orthopaedic Research Society, the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, and the American Orthopaedic Association.  His research awards include the Kappa Delta Award, the Cabaud Award for Research in Sports Medicine, the American Orthopaedic Association Award for Distinguished Achievement in Orthopaedic Research, the Orthopaedic Research Society and American Orthopaedic Association Alfred Shands Award for Research, the Orthopaedic Research Society-Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation Distinguished Investigator Award, the Orthopaedic Research Society Fellow Award, the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) Basic Science Award, the University of Iowa Inventor Award and the University of Iowa College of Medicine Impact Scholar Award.

Dr. Buckwalter is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the National Academy of Medicine, National Academies of Sciences.  His initial investigations focused on articular cartilage biology; his current research involves study of the pathogenesis of post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) and methods of preventing osteoarthritis following joint injuries. Work by his research team shows that mechanically induced chondrocyte metabolic dysfunction has a critical role in the onset and progression of osteoarthritis caused by acute joint injuries and chronic joint overloading; and, preventing this dysfunction in animal models that simulate human joint injuries minimizes or prevents PTOA.  His clinical practice has included treatment of patients with osteoarthritis, joint injuries and tumors of the musculoskeletal system and more than two decades as team physician for the University of Iowa Football Team.

His wife, Kitty, is Professor of Nursing and former Dean at the University of Iowa College of Nursing and a member of the National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. They have three children: Joseph, a hand and microvascular surgeon, Andrea, an ENT surgeon and Abigail, a vice president of a Health Science Company, and eight grandchildren.

Sanford Emery, MD, MBA, FAOA – 2021 Winner of the Distinguished Clinician Educators Award

About Dr. Emery

Dr. Emery, Professor and Chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and Director of Surgical Services at West Virginia University, has been in the active practice of Orthopaedic surgery for the last 33 years, and sub-specializes in adult spine surgery.  After completing his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College and medical school at Duke University School of Medicine, Dr. Emery completed his Orthopaedic surgical residency at the University of Rochester/Strong Memorial Hospital, in Rochester, New York.  He received his fellowship training at Case Western Reserve University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio and remained on faculty there until taking the chair position at WVU in 2003.  Dr. Emery earned an MBA at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

Dr. Emery is a past president of the American Orthopaedic Association from 2016-2017.  He served on the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and was President of that organization from 2014-2015.  Dr. Emery is past president of the Cervical Spine Research Society, and a member of several professional medical societies including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, North American Spine Society, Scoliosis Research Society, Lumbar Spine Research Society, and West Virginia Orthopaedic Society.  He has over seventy publications, thirty-four book chapters, one textbook, and has been invited to present his work on over two hundred occasions at local, regional, national, and international meetings. He is the recent recipient of the AOA 2021 Distinguished Clinician Educator Award.

At WVU Dr. Emery has grown the department from five to thirty-nine full-time faculty, established a resident research program, fostered a significant increase in both funding and productivity of basic and clinical research in Orthopaedics, and serves on several leadership committees in his institution including the University Health Associates Board of Directors.

See past AOA Award winners in our Hall of Fame.

Criteria For Awards Selection

Annually, the AOA Distinguished Clinician Educator Award recognizes an AOA member as an exceptional orthopaedic clinician educator. The award emphasizes the critical role that clinician educators play within academic health centers, where state-of-the-art educational programs demand faculty time devoted to training medical students, graduate students, residents and other health professionals.

Awardee Criteria may include:

  • Received Teacher of the Year (or equivalent) from residency program, medical school, university or professional society
  • Held leadership positions in national and/or international organizations with a focus on education (including representing orthopaedics in organizations such as AAMC, AMA, RRC, COA, ORS, ABOS, AOA and AAOS)
  • Chaired educational committees at home institution or professional organization
  • Acted as a mentor to other orthopaedists locally or nationally and/or internationally
  • Has contributed to orthopaedic education nationally and/or internationally
  • Trainees (students, residents and fellows) in academics both nationally and internationally
  • Pursued further education training through courses, workshops, faculty development, or participated in an educational fellowship program
  • Achieved a sustained record of significant scholarly activity in education
  • Has authored original books, papers and chapters related to education
  • Record of sustained involvement in graduate medical education programs such as:
    • Program director
    • CORD leadership
    • ACGME
    • RRC
    • ABOS
    • AOA
    • AAOS

Current members of the Executive Committee are not eligible to be considered for the Distinguished Contributions to Orthopaedics Award and/or the Distinguished Clinician Educator Award while they are serving on the Executive Committee.

Annually, the AOA Distinguished Contributions to Orthopaedics Award recognizes an AOA member’s personal achievement and broad contribution to the orthopaedic specialty by confronting issues or challenges in the profession. The award emphasizes leadership, impact on patient care, and clinical or basic science research.

Awardee Criteria

Achieved pre-eminence or noted as an authority in:

  • Clinical practice
  • Educating other orthopaedists
  • Orthopaedic research
  • Other meritorious service to the profession of orthopaedics
  • Contributions that have changed or influenced the art and science of orthopaedics
  • Lifetime contributions to the field of orthopaedics
  • Contributions to the international scope of orthopaedics
  • Contributions that extend beyond bench research


Current members of the Executive Committee are not eligible to be considered for the Distinguished Contributions to Orthopaedics Award and/or the Distinguished Clinician Educator Award while they are serving on the Executive Committee.