Leaving a legacy in Orthopedics

A salute to Drs. George Thompson and John Shaffer, who will retire from UH after more than 40 years

Innovations in Orthopaedics - Winter 2019

On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, George H. Thompson, MD, and John Shaffer, MD, took care of their final patients for 2018. As they celebrated the end of a successful year, they also looked ahead to life in retirement. After more than 40 years with University Hospitals, both physicians leave a legacy of surgical innovation, mentorship and leadership.


Dr. Thompson served as Division Chief of Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and UH Cleveland Medical Center for 40 years. He also served as Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

George Thompson, MD George Thompson, MD

“In an ever-changing health care environment, to continue to be a true academic orthopaedic surgeon is challenging,” says James E. Voos, MD, Chair of the Department of Orthopaedics at UH Cleveland Medical Center. “Dr. Thompson is an example of how to balance that. He has a busy clinical practice, educates and still takes part in research. He's never slowed down. He has followed through on UH's academic mission his entire career.”

Dr. Thompson received his Bachelor of Science in Physiology from Oklahoma State University in 1966 and his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine in 1970. After completing his surgical internship and orthopaedic surgery residency at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, and a pediatric orthopaedics fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Dr. Thompson laid down roots in Cleveland.

Over the next four decades, Dr. Thompson developed surgical techniques to prevent or decrease blood loss during pediatric orthopaedic surgery. Along with Christina Hardesty, MD, Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, Dr. Thompson used MAGEC, a then-new magnetic rod lengthening system, to treat children with early-onset scoliosis (EOS). He documented his patients' outcomes as part of the Growing Spine Study Group, an international research consortium that addresses early-onset scoliosis. 

Throughout a career that included many awards, lectures, articles and board appointments, Dr. Thompson maintained a sense of humor and humility. “He sits in the room with every child and puts them in the center of care,” Dr. Voos says. “He has a unique ability to connect and establish trust with children who have serious injuries. It's an empathetic way to practice that we should all emulate.”

While Dr. Thompson has completed his clinical practice, he expresses a desire to remain active in research, education and lectureships to promote UH and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. 


Dr. Shaffer, an orthopaedic hand, shoulder and elbow surgeon, started at UH at about the same time as Dr. Thompson. Like his colleague, Dr. Shaffer also participated heavily in research and education.

John Shaffer, MD John Shaffer, MD

“He's been our anchor and stalwart hand surgeon for 40 years,” Dr. Voos says. “He's also inspired many of our residents to pursue careers in hand surgery.”

Dr. Shaffer received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1965 and his medical degree from University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1969. After a general surgery internship at Union Memorial Hospital, in Baltimore, Dr. Shaffer pursued an orthopaedic surgery residency and hand surgery fellowship at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. He joined UH not long after.

Throughout his career, Dr. Shaffer has treated numerous patients with both simple and complex pathology of the hand and upper extremity. Even over the past few years, when some doctors would scale back, he continued to carry a full clinical load. 

“He maintained a busy clinical and surgical practice,” Dr. Voos says. “He's very dedicated and has an incredible work ethic. He continued to educate our residents, as well.”

With more than 80 years of combined experience, Drs. Thompson and Shaffer have cared for thousands of patients throughout Northeast Ohio. They have saved lives, refined surgical techniques and inspired others to pursue careers as orthopaedic surgeons. We wish them success and happiness as they pursue new goals in 2019 and beyond.

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