A Life in Rhythm
Nov 14, 2022 Sarah Spivack LaRosa, photos by Bill Pollard
For one orthopaedic surgeon, good medicine is a joint effort.
Sean Rajaee, MD, is a team player. Captain of the drumline in high school, he still relishes the flow of a squad all working in unison.
“When you have 10 people playing on a drumline, it doesn’t work if one person is on their own vibe,” Dr. Rajaee says. “It’s the same kind of precise performance in the operating room. I really enjoy seeing the energy and synergy happening. When you put your hand out and someone knows what to hand you because they know what you’re thinking—that’s when the performance is successful.”
As co-director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Outpatient Hip and Knee Surgery and an expert orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Rajaee’s first order of business as head of a patient’s care team is to make clear exactly what joint replacement is.
“People think you’re chopping out half their leg,” says Dr. Rajaee. “Really, you’re resurfacing the ends of their bones so that they don’t grind—you’re putting new tops on these bones.”
When you have 10 people playing on a drumline, it doesn’t work if one person is on their own vibe. It’s the same kind of precise performance in the operating room."
A born problem-solver, Dr. Rajaee was drawn to orthopaedics while at Tufts University School of Medicine because there are often definitive solutions to healing patients’ joints.
“I found it very gratifying to see someone who was unhappy with their quality of life, someone who couldn’t walk, become the happiest person in the world after the surgeon operated on them,” Dr. Rajaee says.
Solutions to orthopaedic problems are getting more advanced all the time. Dr. Rajaee co-leads arthroplasty research at Cedars-Sinai, investigating how technology such as robotic-assisted surgery can improve hip- and knee-replacement techniques and outcomes. Numerous studies suggest that as many as 20% of total-knee-replacement patients are dissatisfied. This can be for a variety of reasons, and Dr. Rajaee and his team are dedicated to improving that number.
“Robotic techniques are reducing the number of joint-replacement failures, and we are also hoping to improve the number of people who show early recovery,” Dr. Rajaee says. “Cedars-Sinai is on the cutting edge of research, which means our care services are also on the forefront of what’s available. “
As co-director of the Arthroplasty Fellowship, Dr. Rajaee is shaping the next generation of hip and knee specialists.
“My goal is to help train them to have the best tools, skills and confidence when they leave here,” he says.
While most of his surgeries use computer and robotic technology, he tailors techniques and tools to everyone he treats.
“Each patient has unique needs and I customize the care I provide for their needs and anatomy,” Dr. Rajaee says.
And he is on every patient’s team for the long term.
“With every person I operate on, it’s like I married them for the rest of my life,” Dr. Rajaee says. “If that patient calls me in six years with an issue, I immediately feel a sense of responsibility.”
I found it very gratifying to see someone who was unhappy with their quality of life, someone who couldn’t walk, become the happiest person in the world after the surgeon operated on them."
Dr. Rajaee was drawn to medicine watching his father’s career as president and owner of an imaging facility.
"I kind of grew up in the world of his office, where I was exposed to physicians, and it seemed very glamorous,” Dr. Rajaee says. "I also liked seeing a problem on an X-ray or MRI and knowing the physician could do something for that patient.”
Dr. Rajaee’s foundational team was his family. A child of Iranian immigrants, he fondly remembers his early years in Arcadia, California, gathering for lively group dinners and family cruises to the Caribbean (complete with obtaining rum cake to enjoy back in the states).
"Family is always there as your support. Throughout my education and medical training, I felt that encouragement,” he says. "And I’ve extended that now to what I want with my own wife and two kids."
Dr. Rajaee could easily work around the clock juggling his research, training and clinical responsibilities. But his weekends and evenings are dedicated to the home team: his wife, Ariana ("my rock"), and their two young children. His 4-year-old daughter is developing a passion for music to match her dad’s.
"She lip-synchs and makes up words to songs—she’s just the most energetic little girl I’ve ever met," Dr. Rajaee says, beaming. "No matter how inconsistent my work schedule is, I will be there for my family. They’re the base."
From high school drumline to present-day operating room, Dr. Rajaee is a pro at leading teams of people to march in the same direction. He even organized an elaborate groomsmen dance for his wife at their wedding (the viral video is highly Googleable). Here, he shares tips for helping a team deliver peak performance for peak patient satisfaction.
- Get all players involved and reinforce that everyone is important.
- Empower team members to speak up so all voices are heard.
- After establishing expectations and responsibilities, execute the job.
- When the job is done, discuss how to do it even better next time.
- Take time to celebrate achievements together.