Dustin Price was away from Johnson City for six years for his medical training, but he always planned to return home to care for patients in his hometown – and now he’s back.
“This has always been home,” says Price, who says he’s here to stay for the long haul. “I always knew I wanted to be back in the Tri-Cities and take care of people in this area.”
He returned home about a year ago after a five-year orthopedic surgery residency with Greenville Health System in South Carolina and a one-year fellowship at a specialty clinic in Mississippi – an additional year of training that many doctors do not pursue.
He says spending a year so far away was a significant sacrifice for his family – his wife, Candice, their two young children, and both extended families; the distance kept them from seeing relatives often. But he did it for an important reason: “I wanted to be the best surgeon I could be.”
While in Mississippi, he says, he did 650 hip and knee replacement surgeries, gaining valuable experience in both routine and complex hip and knee surgery. He also spent his time reading and learning from experts in the largest hip and knee replacement centers in the country, developing his own protocols based on their experience and best practices.
The training was about gaining expertise in his very specific field: “I would rather be really good at four or five surgical procedures than be just average at 25 different procedures,” he says.
He’s now working as a hip and knee replacement specialist at Watauga Orthopaedics, a multi-specialty practice in Johnson City and Kingsport that’s been around since 1950. He also teaches through East Tennessee State University’s orthopedic surgery program, helping new doctors complete their training.
“My goal, no matter what I’m doing – whether it’s giving you an injection or doing your knee replacement – is to help improve your pain and function so you can continue to do things you want to be doing,” he says.
“If you’re having hip or knee pain and it’s keeping you from doing the things you enjoy, like playing with your grandchildren or playing golf with your friends, I want to help get you back out there doing the things that you love.”
A first-generation doctor, he says he got to know the doctors at Watauga Orthopaedics back when he was in physical therapy school at East Tennessee State University. Those interactions helped him make the decision to enter medical school at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine and pursue a career in orthopedic surgery.
A graduate of Science Hill High School who went to Milligan College on academic and baseball scholarships, growing up he often spent summers and weekends helping his dad with various construction projects. In a way, he says, hip and knee replacement is a lot like construction, using various tools and implants to rebuild a joint that’s worn out with arthritis.
He always liked the process of figuring out how to fix something and then seeing the final result afterward, he says – a process not all that different from what he does now. Except now, instead of fixing something around the house, he’s replacing hip and knee joints to give patients a better quality of life.
He performs hip and knee replacements for arthritis as well as revision surgeries for patients who’ve already had a replacement and have pain, instability, infection, or loosening of their implants – even if the surgery was performed many years ago.
When doing knee replacement surgeries, he uses a technology called computer navigation to assist with making precise measurements and bone resections – a process that takes the guesswork out of surgery and produces more consistent results. But, unlike the robotic surgeries that are increasingly being promoted, he still does the surgery by hand.
“I just don’t like the idea of having a robot control and guide my hand during surgery,” he says. “For me, the way I use the computer navigation is the best of both worlds. I use the technology to make me more accurate and consistent, and I am still in full control of the surgery.”
When he’s not caring for patients, he says, he enjoys golf, movies, and spending time with friends and family. Now that he’s back home, he says he’s rooted in the Tri-Cities – and he plans to stick around for the long term.
Watauga Orthopaedics has convenient locations in Johnson City (2410 Susannah Street) and Kingsport (875 Larry Neil Way). To learn more about Watauga Orthopaedics or to schedule an appointment, visit wataugaortho.com or call (423) 282-9011.