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Hand Surgery Fellowship

James P Higgins, MD

James P. Higgins, MD
Chief of Hand Surgery

The MedStar Union Memorial Hospital - Curtis National Hand Center hand and microsurgery fellowship program has an outstanding clinical and research faculty to deliver superior education.

Each year we receive over 100 applications for the four accredited positions, and approximately 30-35 prospective candidates are interviewed.

Our program offers training in assessment and management of common and complex hand and upper extremity injuries. A combined staff of 15 orthopaedic and plastic surgeons offers a broad range of approaches to the treatment of hand and upper extremity conditions. Fellows have an opportunity to work with all of the attending staff during the fellowship.

The program participates with the ASSH online fellowship application platform.  Applications for this program should be submitted through the ASSH. Letters of recommendation should be addressed to Program Director. The platform can be accessed through the ASSH website.

Combining all of the attending surgeons' practices allows each fellow to have clinical and surgical exposure to patients with disorders of the entire upper extremity from the shoulder to the fingertips. Plastic surgery residents from Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities, orthopaedic surgery residents from MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, and hand/upper extremity fellows from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda rotate on the service and work closely with our fellows and attending staff. Fellows rotate in the National Hand Specialists Office with the attending staff and spend one half day a week at the Greater Chesapeake Hand Specialists Office.

The clinic attracts an array of hand and upper extremity disorders. Each fellow has his/her own clinic one-half day per week which is staffed by a supervising attending, physician assistant and a hand therapist. Fellows also have their own shared surgical block time. For the first 3 months of the fellowship all surgical cases are staffed by one of the attending surgeons. An attending surgeon must be present for at least a portion of every surgery that the fellow performs. After the initial 3 months the hand center's Clinical Competency Committee meets in late October to determine if the fellows have graduated to the point where they are prepared to have independent operating privileges, with the understanding that the attending staff is available for further advice and assistance as needed. 

The teaching program includes daily conferences, lectures, and/or surgical labs covering all aspects of hand and upper extremity surgery including microsurgery, anatomy, pathology, surgical indications, surgical techniques, and hand/upper extremity rehabilitation. Fellows have access to our Surgical Techniques and Technologies Cadaver Lab (STAT Lab) and our microsurgery lab for educational and research purposes. The fellows’ curriculum includes sessions in the cadaver lab once a week for dissection sessions; twice a year for flap dissection courses; and 2-3 times per month for technique training sessions. The microsurgical lab provides weeklong availability of rodent model microsurgical training. The accredited facility provides anesthesia, training and husbandry services for microsurgical practice and research protocols.

Congenital clinic and journal clubs are conducted monthly. Clinical categories are well balanced in upper extremity trauma, microsurgery, posttraumatic reconstruction, arthritic conditions, neurological disorders, congenital conditions, and other disorders. Fellows gain pediatric and congenital hand/upper extremity experience by participating in a one month rotation to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, during which housing is provided.

Each fellow is required to complete a research project in clinical or laboratory research. All research projects are funded by MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. If a planned project exceeds the budget of the hospital's available grants there are other funding opportunities available in MedStar and other research foundations for which the Hand Center's research team will help during the application process. The results of the fellow research are presented to a distinguished hand surgeon during our annual visiting professorship. Results are typically submitted to high-quality peer-reviewed hand/upper extremity, orthopaedic, and/or plastic surgery journals for publication consideration. 

Twice a year a surgical team is sent to the Dominican Republic to work in Centro Medico Central Romana, an 82 bed hospital dedicated to serving the needs of the local community. Centro Medico donates the services of the entire hospital to the upper extremity surgery needs of the community during the biannual visit. This program prepares Fellows to be skillful hand surgeons for private practice and academics. Fellows typically have independent but supervised surgical privileges for the mission. Soon after the fellowship begins, Dr. Michael Murphy will ask if any fellows wish to volunteer for this opportunity. This is an entirely voluntary mission but is typically highly sought after by the fellows.

All fellows have their own private offices with a computer and printer. Fellows receive a $500 allowance that can be used towards the purchase of a digital camera, books, etc.  Books on hand surgery, microsurgery, musculoskeletal coding and upper extremity rehabilitation are purchased for each fellow. Fellows are provided travel and lodging expenses for one hand/upper extremity conference during the year. Furthermore, if a fellow's research project is presented at a conference within one year of their graduation, they will also receive $1500 towards the travel and lodging expenses for that conference. 

  • This fellowship is ACGME accredited.
  • This fellowship participates in the match program.
  • The deadline for completed applications is December 15.

Salary & Benefits