Q&A: Doctor’s prescription for a good life: Family, friends, health, hard work


Clifford W. Colwell Jr., M.D., is medical director of the Shiley Center for Orthopaedic Research and Education at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, and holds the Donald and Darlene Shiley Chair in Orthopaedic Research. He is clinical professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and adjunct clinical professor in the Department of Basic Science and Clinical Research at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).

He was chief of the Orthopaedic Division at Scripps Clinic and director of the Lower Extremity Reconstruction Fellowship Program for 25 years. Dr. Colwell received his medical degree from the University of Michigan and completed a two-year general surgery residency at U of M. He did his orthopaedic residency at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and completed a trauma fellowship at Los Angeles County Hospital.

He served in the military at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas (1968-70). He and his wife, Carolyn, have three children and six grandchildren.

Dr. Colwell has received numerous awards for his work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Technology in Arthroplasty (ISTA) in 2009. He has authored 220 papers, written 18 book chapters, and has been a speaker at multiple symposia worldwide.

Who or what inspires you?

Individuals who are able to add giving of their time, effort and finances to a common good in addition to their own self-interests. There have been wonderful examples of such individuals from my professional and personal life. In the causes that I find important, there are always people who inspire me by doing much more than I do.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

I have often thought of a similar-type question. Would I have someone who has been an inspiration to many, but whose philosophy is already well known or someone who you would wonder of their answers to certain questions?

For a dinner party, I would choose the later, as for a starter they would need to appreciate good food and good wine. Winston Churchill, Jacqueline Kennedy, William Shakespeare (if he, in fact, was one person), Georgia O’Keeffe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nadine Gordimer, George Washington and Carolyn, my wife. (If allowed nine, I would include Catherine the Great.)

Tell us about what you are reading.

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, “Cat’s Table” by Michael O’Daatje, and “The Long Journey to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. For some reason, I am unable to read one book at a time. (The rule that one book must leave before another comes in doesn’t work in our home.)

What would be your dream vacation?

This might seem a little weak, but both Carolyn and I are really happy either here or at our family cottage in upper Michigan on a clear water lake where we can canoe (and I can build canoes), hike, bike, read and enjoy the change in weather (this does not apply to winter).

The fact that our children and their children also love it is another plus. In addition to the above, visiting a place that has an interesting history has great value; Israel would be an example. Our trip on the Orient Express is a wonderful memory.

What are your favorite movies of all time?

“Dr. Zhivago,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” (This list tells you something about my age.)

What is your most prized possession?

I have had good health and without this, many things are truly impossible. A great marriage is a close second, but one could add books and handmade cedar-strip canoes.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

The following answer is only predicated on the advantages of living in this country. In this setting, hard work and persistence will have a great chance of success with a foundation in family, close personal friends and laughter.