Physician Profile: Meet Dr. David Gwinn

Published February 20, 2018

At The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, we are committed to providing patients with the highest quality and most convenient orthopaedic care possible. As new physicians and care centers join CAO, we’re able to expand our offerings and better serve the local community.

We’re delighted to welcome our newest physician, spine surgeon Dr. David Gwinn, to the Montgomery Orthopaedics care center. Dr. Gwinn has more than 20 years of experience treating combat wounds and serving the U.S. Navy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and he recently served as Chief and Chairman of the Orthopaedics Department at Walter Reed.

We sat down with Dr. Gwinn to discuss his spine specialty, experiences with the Navy and the decision to pursue private practice:

Why did you choose to specialize in spine surgery?

I became interested in the spine specialty during my second year of residency. One of the staff members I worked with was a spine surgeon, and we got along really well. I found that I enjoyed the focus that spine surgery requires, and the difficulty of the procedures. I thought it was something that would give me job satisfaction over the course of my life.

What are some of the most common injuries you treat?

I primarily work with degenerative spine conditions, so I’m often working with patients who have degenerative scoliosis and performing cervical fusions, lumbar fusions and lumbar decompressions. Additionally, I work with spine trauma and spine oncology patients, where I typically treat tumors. I also perform hip and knee replacements for patients with arthritis.

In addition to serving as a physician with the Navy for 20 years, you recently earned a Master’s in Strategic Studies from the Marine Corps War College. Can you tell us about that?

I have a lot of interest in both national and healthcare policy. At one point, I was considering going into executive administration within the military, which is ultimately a flag rank. I needed to make sure that I had the prerequisites to make that possible and support my interest in policy. I chose to pursue the degree during my deployment in Afghanistan, which was followed by time studying at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico. 

I didn’t feel that the military was maximizing healthcare from a fiscal or quality standpoint based on what I had seen and experienced, I felt like I could contribute to changing that. The additional education did help lead to my position as the Chief and Chairman of the Orthopaedic Surgery department at Walter Reed Medical Center, but I realized that I would have to give up a lot of my clinical practice in order to pursue an executive position. I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth losing the majority of my clinical practice – I just cared too much about treating patients and doing surgery.

Tell us about your experience chairing the orthopaedic department at Walter Reed.

Walter Reed has been the primary hospital for combat surgery over the last 15 years. We have a big mission, and I felt that I was able to give back to that mission by expanding my focus beyond my expertise in orthopaedics. Walter Reed has a large residency program, and the orthopaedic department alone has 36 residents and more than 20 staff members. I had the chance to lead colleagues, peers and subordinates, which was both rewarding and eye-opening.

Why did you recently choose to pursue a career in private practice?

I’ve been in a large health system – the Department of Defense – for my entire career, and it is also a strong academic setting. In that setting, research and teaching is as important as patient care. My favorite part of medicine is actually the clinical work of treating patients, and I wanted to spend more time with patients. I’ve put into my military career what they invested in me, and it’s time to have a new experience and work in civilian medicine for the first time. Working in private practice also frees up my personal life and creates new opportunities I haven’t had before.

The one thing that I am going to miss the most is my colleagues and patients, who were all focused on a mission that was bigger than us. That generates a type of personality that is very easy to get along with and to work with, but I do feel that the Montgomery Orthopaedics staff has very similar personalities. I’m very fortunate and lucky to find that. In fact, one of my colleagues here, John Keeling, was also one of my partners at Walter Reed.

What has been your experience transitioning to CAO?

I’ve experienced a high level of support here at CAO, which you don’t necessarily get in a big system, so that’s been a pleasant surprise. My partners at Montgomery Orthopaedics have also been very helpful and made the transition very easy.

Tell us a fun fact about your personal life.

I play a keyboard in a professional band, and I’m an avid golfer!

How do you think orthopaedics will change over the next few years?

I think evidence-based and outcomes-based medicine will change all aspects of medicine, not just orthopaedics or spine surgery. If it’s implemented correctly, it could really benefit both patients and doctors. However, I think it’s important that surgeons – as the substantive experts – fully participate in this process to ensure it’s beneficial to all of us.