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Steindler, Arthur
(June 22, 1878–July 21, 1959)

–orthopedic surgeon and medical educator—was the great clinician-teacher necessary for the survival of the State University of Iowa College of Medicine in the early decades of the 20th century. He has been called the least publicized great man in American medicine and the founder of Iowa orthopedics.

    Steindler was born in Vienna, Austria, and finished his undergraduate work at the University of Prague in 1898. He received an M.D. from the University of Vienna in 1902 and practiced medicine in that city for five years. In 1907 Steindler emigrated to America and began working at the Home for Crippled Children in Chicago and at Rush Medical College. He became a professor at Drake University's College of Medicine in 1910. There Steindler met Charles Rowan, professor of surgery at the State University of Iowa. Rowan persuaded Steindler to commute to Iowa City twice weekly to give lectures and clinics on the emerging specialty of orthopedics.

    At the same time that Steindler was entering the Iowa medical scene, Abraham Flexner was conducting his famous survey of American medical education. Flexner found problems with all three Iowa medical schools. He recommended closure for Drake and Keokuk and a scaling back of the State University of Iowa to offer only instruction in basic sciences. Predictably, the finding upset the Iowa medical community and the Iowa Board of Regents, who urged Flexner to reconsider. Upon further review, Flexner suggested that the State University of Iowa College of Medicine might survive if it "hired a great clinician and built the school around him."Steindler proved to be that great clinician.

    When Drake's medical school closed in 1913, Rowan hired Steindler as assistant professor of surgery, bringing to Iowa City his vast experience in pediatric orthopedics. With Steindler in place, the State University of Iowa Hospital (UIH) could begin to address another deficiency identified in the Flexner report, a paucity of patients to train students. Flexner called for a "comprehensive system of taking care of the poor of the state."Steindler lobbied the Iowa legislature in 1915 to pass the Perkins Bill, which provided state-funded treatment at UIH for "any child under age sixteen afflicted with some deformity or suffering from some malady that probably can be remedied."

    The Perkins Bill, with its implicit sanction of the quality of care at UIH, led to a dramatic increase in the number of patients treated in Iowa City. Many of the Perkins patients were seen by Steindler, whose innovative treatments for clubfoot, scoliosis, and other congenital musculoskeletal defects were quite effective. His success as a surgeon drew not only patients but also attracted clinicians to study under him. Prominent orthopedists such as Ignatio Ponsetti, Michael Bonfiglio, and R. W. Newman were among the scores who served internships under Steindler.

    Steindler also lobbied the Iowa legislature for funds to create the Children's Hospital at the State University of Iowa in 1919. This was the first such specialty hospital in the state. Built to Steindler's specifications, the pavilion-style hospital contained 100 orthopedic beds, 60 pediatric beds, classrooms, and a "cast room," where hundreds of casts, braces, and orthopedic appliances were made each year. Clearly, the State University of Iowa had found its great clinician.

    In 1925 the College of Medicine created the Department of Orthopedics and named Steindler its first chair. He held the chair for more than two decades, before retiring from the university in 1949 to devote more time to his private practice. During his tenure at the College of Medicine, Steindler treated nearly 70,000 patients, many of them children. At midcareer he was treating more than 2,000 patients per year, routinely doing osteotomies, bone fusions to treat ankylosis and scoliosis, and tendon transplants, and fitting hundreds with orthopedic braces and casts.

    Over the course of his career, Steindler published more than 120 articles in medical journals. He also wrote major books: Textbook of Orthopedic Operations (1925); Diseases of the Spine and Thorax (1929); Mechanics of Normal and Pathological Locomotion in Man (1935); Orthopedic Operations: Indications, Techniques, and End Results (1940); and Kinesiology of the Human Body under Normal and Pathological Conditions (1955).

    In 1983 the University of Iowa renamed the Children's Hospital the Steindler Building, a bricks and mortar tribute to the man who designed it, treated its patients, and secured state funds to pay for the treatment. Steindler's contributions to the larger field of orthopedics have been commemorated by the Orthopedic Research Society's Steindler Award, given biannually to honor physicians for their lifelong contributions to the understanding of musculoskeletal diseases.
Sources include Joseph Buckwalter, "Arthur Steindler: The Founder of Iowa Orthopedics," Iowa Orthopedic Journal (1979), 5–12; Iowa Press Association, Who's Who in Iowa (1940); Vernon Langille, "Dr. Arthur Steindler," Iowa Alumni Review 2 (February 1949), 10–12; and Samuel Levey et al., The Rise of the University Teaching Hospital: A Leadership Perspective on the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (1996).
Contributor: Matthew Schaefer