"Something Big” by Shawn Mendes was playing in the operating room as Dr. Michael Terry joined his team to prep for his 8 a.m. hip arthroscopy surgery. Terry prefers upbeat hip-hop, but he let it slide, knowing his fellow, Dr. Vehniah Tjong, loves the heartthrob singer from her native Canada. The orthopedic surgeon is generous with the DJ role, giving everyone involved a chance to pick the playlist, with the occasional veto: jazz gets the axe every time.
The freedom Terry gives his team is just one reason why he’s so successful at his job, according to Tjong. In fact, he’s successful at about three jobs. By day, Terry is a practicing orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago – appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays, operations on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By night and weekend he’s a team doctor for Northwestern Athletics and the Chicago Blackhawks.
In person, Terry, 44, is built like a hockey player, tall and stocky with wavy brown hair and glasses, and carries his bedside manner wherever he goes – calm, confident and with a methodical attention to detail.
“[I’ve] operated on pro athletes in every major sport, and have seen a lot of people that you would’ve heard of,” Terry says. “At the end of the day it’s the same surgery.”
Sometimes a player’s career is literally in his hands: Terry reconstructed the Achilles tendon of former Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa. But his focus is on professionalism – once the drapes go up, he said, it doesn’t matter who’s on the operating table. Tjong said that from her first day at Feinberg’s sports medicine fellowship, Terry has stressed professionalism above all.
“We treat every patient, whether they be high-profile ones or just neighbors off the street, in the same respectful and professional manner,” Tjong said. “When you have that sort of mentality, it’s quite easy to have a high profile guy come in who needs care.”
Late in his undergraduate career at the University of Illinois, Terry became increasingly interested in surgery, and, despite a bachelor’s degree in engineering, continued on to medical school at the University of Chicago. Drawing on his experiences playing club volleyball at Illinois, he immediately gravitated toward sports orthopedics, and after his residency spent a year training at the highly regarded Steadman-Hawkins clinic.
“Surgery for sports in particular is just so interesting on a technical level,” he said. “It’s one thing to get someone back to doing a desk job, but it’s a different set of challenges when you add on he’s got to run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash or skate for 20 minutes a night.”
After his fellowship Terry returned to work at the University of Chicago’s hospital, and in 2004 landed the head physician role at the Blackhawks. He made the switch from Hyde Park to Northwestern Memorial in 2009, adding Northwestern Athletics the same year. At Northwestern Memorial, Terry performs about 15 to 20 surgeries a week, and he’s with the Blackhawks for roughly 80 percent of Blackhawks games, home and away. Crisp fall Saturdays find him on the Northwestern sideline for all 12 (or 13) contests.
“He’s able to provide the balance in his life to juggle both a busy academic practice at Northwestern as well as take care of all these other sports teams,” Tjong said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
Terry admits that sometimes his full schedule is tough to handle, but the organizations he’s a part of have made it worth it. Both Northwestern and the Blackhawks offer his wife and three kids plenty of perks, and the Blackhawks engraved his name on the Stanley Cup all three of their championship-winning seasons.
“Winning those cups was a real journey and a very special thing,” Terry said. “But with the amount of time that we spend, having your family included and making you feel like you’re really a part of the organization makes it so much better. You’re able to do a better job that way.”
He’s just as happy with Northwestern, he said, and is always eager to engage with students who are pursuing a future in medicine.
“The Northwestern kids here are smart – they’re actively engaged and they’re good kids top to bottom,” Terry said. “Some are interested in medicine, and that’s always fun to chat with them about that.”
Terry’s passion seems to follow him wherever he goes, even at home with his wife and three kids.
“We’ve casted like three kids in the last month at our house,” said Terry’s wife, Lynne. “That’s just part of our family life. It’s like, ‘Okay, do we have anyone coming over tonight?’”
Terry sometimes works with USA Volleyball, and that’s given him a taste for one thing he’s yet to experience, though he knows he isn’t going to Rio. Eventually, he said, he’ll make his way to an Olympic games. As long as they don’t play jazz.