July 2020

A Joint Effort: Dr. George Sutherland and physician assistant Brian Thorpe are here to help shoulder your burden.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.KAT Photography


Brian Thorpe and George Sutherland at Optim Orthopedics in Bluffton

Before you can understand the technical expertise and experienced care that Dr. George Sutherland and physician assistant Brian Thorpe bring to Optim Orthopedics, you will need to relieve yourself of a few misconceptions.

The first deals with the particular focus that Sutherland and Thorpe have pursued, which is the anatomy of the shoulder. While they are both well-versed in all areas of orthopedic medicine, their expertise in treating shoulder injuries and ailments is unsurpassed. And time and time again, they’ve seen the damage caused by the misconception that shoulder surgery is something you should put off until you absolutely can’t stand the pain anymore.

“A recent study revealed that ninety-two percent of patients who had undergone shoulder surgery wished they had done it sooner,” Sutherland said. Not only is shoulder surgery vastly different than it was even a few years ago, with new technologies and medications offering better results with less pain, you can do real damage by waiting, he explained.

“You can actually get shoulder deformities if you wait too long,” Sutherland said. “We see much better outcomes when we get to shoulder problems early. Our options for early arthritis are much easier than options for advanced arthritis.”

The second misconception you need to get rid of is that a PA can give you anything less than the utmost care. “I’ve trained Brian to do what I do, so when I’m not available or when patients are seeing him, they’re essentially seeing me,” Sutherland said. “He’s trained in the same protocols and recommended pathology as I am. In this day and age, the way medicine works, that’s where we’re headed.”

“I’m the good cop,” added Thorpe with a laugh.

Having worked together for the last four years and having been part of the same group for several years before that, Sutherland and Thorpe exude a chemistry and a depth of knowledge that sets them apart in their field. Both avid outdoorsmen and military school grads, this dynamic duo are quick to joke around with one another, but that chemistry flips instantly to calculated precision once they’re in the operating room.

For Sutherland, it’s been a journey through medical school at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a residency at LSU Medical Center (a level one trauma center) and a sports medicine fellowship at the Hughston Foundation.

“In my practice, I cover pediatrics, trauma and sports medicine. I have a lot of experience in a lot of different areas,” he said. Cross-training between trauma and sports injuries in particular have given him a uniquely well-rounded perspective on the anatomy of the shoulder.

As the other half of this tag team, Thorpe earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from UGA and his Master of Science in physician assistant studies from Savannah’s South University. The two of them have built a reputation as a team that knows the inner workings of the shoulder like few others, doing call coverage locally at Hilton Head Hospital and Coastal Carolina and at St. Joesph’s/Candler in Savannah and treating injuries and degenerative shoulder conditions of all kinds.

“We’re helping treat advanced shoulder problems all the way from simple rotator cuff repair and arthroscopic stuff to complex reconstruction of the shoulder,” Sutherland said.

Aiding them in this task is some of the latest technology for imaging the shoulder, allowing for a more precise pre-operative plan. Before the first incision is made, Sutherland and Thorpe have already generated a model of the patient’s shoulder in three dimensions and know precisely what needs doing.

“We know the anatomy of the patient going in, which helps us identify pitfalls such a deformity of the glenoid (the shoulder socket),” Sutherland said. “There’s not a lot of bone there, and we have to get everything correct so that the shoulder replacement can function.”

The technology at hand makes treating an injured or chronically painful shoulder much more successful, but it is the expertise and experience behind it that truly sets Sutherland and Thorpe apart.

To request an appointment, visit https://www.optimhealth.com/providers/george-sutherland-md/.

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