Dr. Rita Baumgartner, works to inspire others
The anatomy of the hand is so intricate, that just 1 mm change in the length of a ligament or tendon can drastically affect its function.
It’s these kinds of details that drew Dr. Rita Baumgartner, a fellowship trained orthopedic hand, wrist and elbow surgeon at Panorama Summit Orthopedics, into the specialty. But it’s working together with a variety of people that led her to first become a physician.
“I’ve always loved interacting with different people — it’s what I love to do and how I spend my life,” she said. “I’m able to interact with so many patients of all different ages at a hard time in their lives and guide them through the process of recovery. I like meeting people and understanding what makes them happy, what’s most important to them, and then get them back to those activities and work with a treatment plan to recover.”
Some of the most common problems she treats at Panorama Summit Orthopedics are fractures and elbow dislocations, as well as skier’s thumb, trigger finger, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
One of her passions is creating strong, supportive team environments with patients and colleagues.
“Although I have a role as the surgeon, a patient’s recovery can’t be successful if we’re not working as a team, and that means the patient speaking up and telling us if things aren’t going right,” she said. “One of the things that makes this office special is how we come together and make sure patients are heard and make sure they’re getting everything they need from us across the board.”
She empowers patients to take active roles in their own recovery.
“Our patients know their body much more intimately than we could ever know, so we make sure they are an active participant in their care and make sure we are supporting them in their process,” she said.
After studying pre-med at Duke University, Baumgartner spent a year serving the health needs of the community at a rural health clinic in Haiti.
“That was a formative experience for me,” she said. “One of the core things it taught me was how much I should appreciate all the little things I can take for granted here — for all the opportunities and gifts I’ve had.”
She earned her medical degree at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, then returned to Duke for her residency program. At Duke, she mentored high school girls who showed interest in orthopedic medicine. Recently, she walked girls in Colorado through a half-day, hands-on workshop involving orthopedic interventions.
“It’s an opportunity that not a lot of young women think about,” she says. “There’s a stereotype that you have to be a big, tall man to be strong enough to consider that as a career.”
Only 11% of orthopedic surgeons are women. As a 5’5” medical student, a few doctors and patients questioned if Baumgartner was strong enough to, say, reduce a hip dislocation or do a knee replacement.
“I want to encourage other young women not to be stopped if they hear that,” she said.
After her residency, Baumgartner completed a specialized fellowship program in hand, wrist and elbow surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Having grown up in Boulder, she returned to Colorado every chance she had during her studies. She always dreamed of living in Summit County, and six months ago, that dream came true. “It’s special to live in a small town. The tight-knit community is wonderful,” she said. “I love to hike and snowboard. They make me happy, and a happy person makes a better surgeon.”