The Evolution of Orthopedics and Arthur Bowman, MD

Dr. Arthur Bowman at his desk
After nearly 50 years as an orthopedic surgeon at South Shore Health, Dr. Arthur Bowman stills sees patients two days a week at South Shore Medical Center.

As he reflects on his nearly 50-year career as an orthopedic surgeon at South Shore Health, Dr. Arthur Bowman knows one thing for certain – Sister Veronica would be proud of him.

The “strict but lovable” nun was Bowman’s principal and teacher at Holy Family High School in Ensley, Alabama. She took a strong interest in the bright young man and became a guiding force during his formative years.

Humble beginnings

Born in Bessemer, Alabama – an industrial town outside of Birmingham – Bowman is the eldest of Arthur and Bettie Bowman’s three children.  His father worked in a steel mill and his mother was a medical assistant for a local doctor, which Bowman said sparked his early interest in medicine.  

Bowman’s mother was also the reason he and his brother and sister attended Catholic schools, where they would receive an excellent education and the inspiration to overcome adversity growing up in the segregated south. 

Two nuns with a Black altar boy
Arthur Bowman served as an altar boy at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Bessemer, Alabama. He is pictured with Sister Lorenta and Sister Margaret.

“Those were tough times for Black people,” said Bowman, noting the nuns and priests that came to the south as part of Catholic missions to educate Black children, also uplifted them. 

“They encouraged us to keep a positive attitude and not let the ‘system’ overwhelm us,” Bowman said.  “They instilled in us the confidence to believe, that despite what society is doing to you, you can succeed and overcome these adversities.” 

Prepped for success

While many of his teachers were important to his development, Bowman had a special attachment to Sister Veronica, who he described as tough but sweet, with a good heart. Sister Veronica looked out for Bowman and pushed him to succeed.

“She saw something in me I didn’t even appreciate,” said Bowman, who was a good student academically, but admitted he could be mischievous at times.

One such incident, he recalled, took place in his high school chemistry class. Instead of following the assigned lab, Bowman said he decided to be a wise guy and do his own experiment, mixing a bromine compound with an acid, and sending a plume of brown bromine gas throughout the school. 

“Sister Veronica threw me out of the lab that day,” he said. Despite the transgression, Sister Veronica continued to guide and encourage her promising student.

An elderly nun in a habit
Of all of Arthur Bowman's teachers, Sister Veronica was the most influential. Dr. Bowman kept in touch with Sister Veronica until the late 1970s, long after her retirement from Holy Family High School.

When it came time to consider colleges (Bowman was the first in his family to go), Sister Veronica was adamant that he attend a Catholic university, not a state school.  

“She said it was to save my soul,” said Bowman, who considered Holy Cross, Notre Dame and Marquette. 

His interest in sports factored into the decision.

“I was really into baseball at the time and Milwaukee (Braves) had just beaten the New York Yankees in the World Series, so I chose Marquette,” Bowman said.

Basketball was another interest for Bowman and he was eager to show off his skills during tryouts. Being the first one cut from the team was a humbling experience and Bowman said he decided then, he had better just stick to his studies.

Finding his field in Flint

Bowman’s focus on academics served him well during medical school at Nashville’s Meharry Medical College and his internship at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan.  

It was during his internship that Bowman developed an interest in orthopedics.

“I associated with the orthopedic surgeons,” he said.  “They were very practical men with athletic interests and I liked their lifestyle and approach.”

A group of young male doctors
Dr. Bowman decided to pursue orthopedics during his internship at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan.

Bowman also liked the field itself and said he found orthopedics fit his personality. 

“The mechanical situations are what I enjoy in orthopedics,” he said.  “I like being able to put bones together with plates and screws.  It’s very hands on and manual.”

The cutting edge of joint replacement

Bowman did his orthopedic residency at Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Mass. with rotations at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center). 

Fellowship training followed at New England Baptist, which was at the forefront of joint replacement surgery. Dr. Frederick Ayers was another young surgeon learning joint replacement at New England Baptist.

“We were trained to do joint replacements at a very early stage of the procedure,” Bowman said.

That training would bring both Bowman and Ayers to Weymouth in 1974, where together they would build the joint replacement program at South Shore Hospital.

Taking his talents to the South Shore

Invited to join an established orthopedic practice led by Dr. Richard Kilfoyle, Dr. James Dolphin and Dr. John McConville, Bowman said he felt at home on the South Shore from the beginning.

A group of four doctors
Doctors Richard Kilfoyle, Arthur Bowman, John McConville and James Dolphin pose for a photo in Bowman's home in the 1980s. Kilfoyle, McConville and Dolphin invited Bowman to join their orthopedic practice in 1974.

“I liked it here. The medical staff was very kind and supportive,” said Bowman, noting he was the first Black doctor on staff at South Shore Hospital. “There were so many practitioners that were accepting and made me feel comfortable.”

Bowman also met his wife Debra, who was a pediatric nurse at the time, at South Shore Hospital. The two chose to settle down in Norwell, where they raised their five children and still live in the home they purchased in 1975.  Like his colleagues, the Norwell community was very welcoming, he said.

A yearbook dedication to Dr. Arthur Bowman
​ The Weymouth South Wildcats football team dedicated the 1985 Ad Book to their team physician, Arthur "Doc" Bowman. ​

Bowman was also welcomed in Weymouth, where he served as team physician for the Weymouth South Wildcats football team from the late 1970s until the early 1990s.

And until a few years ago, Bowman was a fixture at Fourth of July parades and schools across the South Shore as a member of the Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry Regiment – a local Civil War reenactment group he was inspired to join after seeing the 1989 film “Glory.”

Black man and his two sons dressed in Civil War uniforms
After watching the 1989 film "Glory," Dr. Arthur Bowman joined the Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry Regiment - a Civil War reenactment group. Bowman is pictured here with sons, Christopher and Marc. Marc also works at South Shore Health as a perioperative assistant.

Trial and error and evolution

The early days of joint replacement involved a great deal of trial and error, Bowman said.

“We were concerned with the design of prostheses. We worried about infections and weren’t sure how long the devices would last or how long the fixation would hold up,” he said.

“You learn what will work and what won’t through trial and error and time. That’s the only way you progress and evolve in medicine or any other field.”

The evolution of orthopedics during his five decades in the field has been remarkable, Bowman said.

Three surgeons pictured on a magazine cover
Orthopedic surgeons Owen McConville, Arthur Bowman and Michael Marchetti were featured in a 2007 cover story in M.D. News -- a business and lifestyle magazine for physicians.

“The devices we used in the early days aren’t in use today – they’re obsolete.  And what we’re doing today, 50 years from now will be obsolete," he said.

"You can't imagine how much it's evolved and we still have a long way to go."

Orthopedic methods/approaches and devices have changed over the years, and so too, has the length of surgeries and recovery time for patients, he said.

A hip or knee replacement that once took 3 to 4 hours, can be done in 1 to 2 hours today, Bowman said. Patients once spent a week to 10 days in the hospital following joint replacement surgery, but now healthy people can go home the same day and have a shorter recovery, he said.

During his career, knee and hip replacements and trauma have been Bowman’s specialties within the field, but he said he is intrigued by the replacements of other joints, including shoulders, elbows and ankles – a procedure that Dr. Casey Kuripla now performs at South Shore Hospital.

“I wish I could go back to fellowship training and try some of these things. I’d love to learn how to do these other joints,” Bowman said.

The man, the mentor, the legend

As a young surgeon starting out, Bowman had several influential mentors helping to guide him -- something he has paid forward by mentoring many others in the field during his storied career. 

When asked what advice he would give to young orthopedic surgeons just beginning their career, Bowman simply said, “Be humble.”

For some people, arrogance and a feeling of invincibility can be a problem, he said.

“What helps you is you make mistakes along the way. The aim should be to improve your skills, accept your failures and learn from them. Be open minded and willing to learn and realize that your learning does not cease – it’s a continuous process.”

While he stopped performing surgeries earlier this year, Bowman continues to see patients two days a week at South Shore Medical Center. “I want to be taken out of here on my shield,” he joked.

Dr. Arthur Bowman in lab coat
Dr. Arthur Bowman wearing a lab coat from the University of Alabama. The Alabama native is a fan of the Crimson Tide but would not have been able to attend the university, which was segregated until 1963.

Gratitude is Bowman’s attitude as he nears this 50-year career milestone. 

“I’m grateful I’ve been able to continue practicing and that the good Lord has given me good mental health and the physical ability to carry on.” 

Bowman is also thankful for Sister Veronica, whose guidance, encouragement and belief in him left an indelible mark on his life.

“Without that, I wouldn’t be here right now.”