Thunderbolt has job of mending bones

In the course of the military lifestyle, through rigorous physical training, heavy stress on bones and muscles, and fast-paced movements with the force of strength to back them, injuries can and do occur. Bones break and ligaments tear, and for some Airmen at Luke, this is a reality that occurs despite the finest safety measures and education.

Fortunately, the 56th Medical Operations Squadron fields a well-educated and highly trained expert to repair these types of injuries.

“It’s a challenging job,” said Maj. (Dr.) Patrick Finkbone, 56th MDOS orthopedic surgeon. “Not only do you have to know a lot about the field, know a lot from a medical standpoint, and have good technical skills in the operating room, you also need to be able to interact well with patients and have good tactile skills.”

Finkbone is tall, with short and swept brown hair typical of an Air Force officer, bright blue eyes, and high cheekbones. He has a face that is warm, and yet denotes a tone of professional seriousness with hard expressions broken only by the occasional smile.

“I love my job,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Finkbone began his journey to the bone doctor profession in college, propelled into the office of an orthopedic surgeon by an injury of his own.

“At the time, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for a career,” Finkbone said. “I injured my knee playing football and tore my anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly known as ACL. When I went to have it fixed, I was inspired by the surgeon who did the ACL reconstruction. I became interested in the field. I started taking anatomy classes, found them to be interesting and because of that, I excelled in them. I continued down that path and the further I went, the more and more interesting it became.”

Soon, Finkbone was in medical school, and four years after that he was a surgical resident. After five years in residency and two years on active duty stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, he finally found himself at Luke.

“This is actually home for me,” he said. “I’m from Glendale, so this was a chance for me to come back home.”

In his time as a surgeon, Finkbone has completed around 400 procedures in a variety of places. He has undergone two mission trips to Africa, one during his residency in Kenya, and another to Zimbabwe more recently, where he conducted some 30 operations to help local people. Finkbone also holds claim to 17 operations done as a civilian trauma call surgeon working in a hospital emergency room.

“Mission trips are something I’ve always been interested in,” Finkbone said. “They are a great opportunity to help people. The first time around, I went to Kenya, and it was a great experience for me, and I decided to do it again.”

Finkbone says the majority of his operations deal with ACL reconstructions and fixing fractures, which are also the most common type of orthopedic issue that Airmen on Luke deal with.

“Additionally, we do a lot of other knee and shoulder operations as well, like labral repairs, which fix dislocated shoulders and things like that,” Finkbone said. “Sometimes we do fracture care and fix broken bones with plates and screws or wires.”

As a bonus, Finkbone’s experiences have given him knowledge of a wide variety of orthopedic problems, equipping him to deal with issues outside the scope of problems normally faced on base.

“When I was in Korea, I did a posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction and worked to repair a couple of multiple ligament knee injuries, which aren’t too common,” Finkbone said. “The functional ligaments resist certain motions. The ACL prevents the tibia from moving forward, and the PCL prevents it from moving backward. It doesn’t require surgery as much as the ACL, but in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to operate in order to reconstruct it.”

Finkbone credits a lot of the success of the clinic to the work of dedicated doctors and Airmen of the 56th MDOS.

“From my experiences here so far, this is a unit that works well as a team,” Finkbone said. “Providers from other fields often come to our section to coordinate patient care with us. I’ve had good interactions with the rest of the medical group. The commanders are plugged in with all parts of the hospital and are interested in helping us perform at the top of our abilities.”

The 56th MDOS has long provided comprehensive medical care to the Airmen and residents of Luke in ways that sometimes go unnoticed. The orthopedic surgery clinic is one of the least known sections of the medical squadron and yet provides some of the most valuable care available.

“We strive to do our best to care for the medical needs of active-duty service members and retirees at Luke,” Finkbone said. “We take care of a broad range of pathologies in our field, and we do so with enthusiasm and a constant push to provide patients with the best care we can give them.”

Of course, much of Finkbone’s personal success is due to his own skill and quality as a doctor with a genuine desire to help, according to Capt. Phillip Karsen, 56th MDOS orthopedic physician’s assistant.

“The biggest thing about Major Finkbone is that he cares,” he said. “He cares about his patients, cares about his people, and cares about doing the right thing. It’s a global quality to have that simply makes him a better human being.”

With the skill that he brings to the table, Finkbone understands there is another lifestyle outside the military he is, in a sense, giving up. Though he may ponder it from time to time, he says he understands what he does here is important, and that fact gives him a greater sense of purpose than he would be able to find anywhere else.

“Any career field in the military is rewarding,” Finkbone said. “On the outside, in the civilian world, orthopedic surgeons make a lot of money compared to what we make in the military, but there is a reward just being in the Air Force that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Taking care of Airmen is something I don’t think you can really place a dollar value on.”


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