Steven R. Garfin, MD, FAOA
Honored as an AOA Pillar of the Orthopaedic Profession

Steven R. Garfin, MD, FAOA is being recognized as an AOA Pillar of the Orthopaedic Profession for his leadership, mentoring, and lifelong contributions to the field of Orthopaedic Surgery during his distinguished career. The champions for this effort on his behalf are Reid Abrams, MD, Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD, FAOA, and Klane K. White, MD, MSc, FAOA.


Steven Garfin, MD, FAOA is interim dean of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. In this role, he directs the school’s educational mission, including the evolution of its curriculum, and provides oversight for all academic and clinical departments and research units.

He has a leadership role in all School of Medicine councils and collaborates with medical school deans across the five University of California medical campuses.

An internationally recognized leader in orthopedic surgery, Dr. Garfin joined the UC San Diego School of Medicine faculty in 1981 and has served as chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery since 1997. Under his oversight, the department received more than $21 million in annual grant funding and ranked nationally for research output.

Dr. Garfin is well established as a forward-thinking leader, having been involved in designing and assessing surgical techniques and instrumentation to treat spinal disorders. At UC San Diego Health, he was the first to articulate the need for a world-class ambulatory building to support Jacobs Medical Center, a vision that resulted in the opening of the Koman Family Outpatient Pavilion.

In his clinical practice, Dr. Garfin specializes in complex reconstructive spine surgery, but also provides treatment for all types of spine conditions, including adult scoliosis, disc herniation and spinal cord injury. He has received many awards for teaching, research and clinical care, including work that has contributed to current international standards for spine surgery.

Dr. Garfin earned his medical degree at the University of Minnesota and completed both an internship in surgery and an orthopedic surgery residency at UC San Diego School of Medicine. He completed a fellowship in adult spine disorders at Pennsylvania Hospital.

He is a member or has served in leadership roles for several national and international spine societies, including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine (ISSLS), the Orthopaedic Research Society, and the Lumbar Spine Research Society. He is a past president of the North American Spine Society (NASS), the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery, and the Cervical Spine Research Society (CSRS). Dr. Garfin also serves on the Executive Governing Board for UC San Diego Health.

Among his many achievements, Dr. Garfin was named one of the top 28 surgeons in the U.S. by Orthopedics This Week in 2012. In 2013, he was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the International Society for the Study of Lumbar Spine, and by NASS with both the Wiltse Award and the Selby Award.

Dr. Garfin has edited 21 books, authored more than 145 book chapters, and published over 300 peer-reviewed articles.  He is deputy editor of the Spine Journal, which has the highest impact factor of orthopedic specialty journals, and reviewer for a number of other orthopedic and spine peer-reviewed journals.  His research awards include two Volvo Awards from ISSLS, multiple awards from NASS and CSRS, and the Orthopedic Research Society New Investigator Recognition Award.

He was the director of all American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons spine courses from 1990 to 1998, including the spine section of their instructional course lectures at annual meetings.  He has also led or co-led a number of research grants supported by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Veterans Affairs and industry.  Additionally, Dr. Garfin has served as the national principal investigator for a number of clinical trials for innovative new technologies in Phase I testing or through clinical trials leading to FDA and Medicare approvals.

The AOA gratefully acknowledges Dr. Garfin’s extensive and comprehensive impact on the orthopaedic community and recognizes him as an AOA Pillar of the Orthopaedic Profession. 


“Despite being so humble and unassuming, Dr. Steven Garfin’s accomplishments amply substantiate his recognition as a Pillar in the field of Orthopedic Surgery.  I am lucky to have known him through my entire career as my boss, mentor, and friend.  Dr. Garfin is an internationally renowned Orthopedic Spine Surgeon who has been a pioneer in complex reconstructive spine surgery.  He has helped develop or improve the halo for cervical spine stabilization, modular pedicle screws, rigid anterior/posterior spinal fixation, biologics for spine fusion, kyphoplasty for osteoporotic spinal fractures and minimally invasive sacroiliac fusion.  Dr. Garfin is beloved by his patients, colleagues and trainees.  He has disseminated his surgical, teaching and leadership acumen to his resident and fellow trainees, many of whom have become pioneers and leaders in their own right.  Dr. Garfin has been president of the North American Spine Society, Cervical Spine Research Society, and the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery, and has been the Deputy Editor of Spine, the premier journal of his specialty.  He served at the UC San Diego Department of Orthopedic Surgery Chair from 1996-2018 and pivoted to become the interim Dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine (2018-2024).  In summary, Dr. Garfin has been the most impactful leader I have had the privilege to know.  He has transcended his early career trajectory as a clinician educator, blossoming into innovator and trailblazer, and transforming into a benevolent, caring, and collaborative leader.”

Reid Abrams, MD
Dr. Garfin’s Co-Champion

“In today’s changing healthcare arena, loyalties to the virtues of education, research, mentoring and leadership have taken a back seat to the “Business of Medicine”. Very few individuals have looked beyond the financial benefits of Medicine and have dedicated their careers to enriching patient lives through improved function and transferring the gift of knowledge and experience to their students like Steve Garfin. A gentleman, scholar, leader, superb technical surgeon, and most importantly a friend. Steve, cheers to a spectacular career in academic medicine.”

Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD, FAOA
Dr. Garfin’s Co-Champion

“As a member of Dr. Steven Garfin’s inaugural intern class at the University of California, San Diego, I had the distinct privilege to spend the better part of 8 years watching and learning from Dr. Garfin – benefiting from his example as a clinician, a scientist, a leader and most importantly, a caring human being. In his more than two decades as Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and now as interim Dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Garfin’s steady and purposeful stewardship continues to make a profound impact on innumerable UCSD students, residents, fellows, and faculty. Dr. Garfin’s dedication to our profession extends beyond his own institution, having served in leadership roles for several national and international spine societies, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Orthopaedic Research Society and of course American Orthopaedic Association. AOA Pillars are the embodiment of transformational leadership and mentoring, and I can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Dr. Steven Garfin. He is truly a leader among leaders who certainly stands as a pillar of the AOA and the greater orthopaedic community.”

Klane K. White, MD, MSc, FAOA
Dr. Garfin’s Co-Champion

If you are interested in becoming a Champion for an AOA Pillar of the Orthopaedic Profession, you can find more information here.

Entire listing of AOA Pillars of the Orthopaedic Profession can be found here.