Dr. Xavier A. Duralde M.D.
Tell us about your first memories of Woodward.
My first memories of Woodward are actually of GMA. When I was in grammar school at our local parochial school, I would swim on a team at night in the Kennedy Natatorium under the legendary Coach Les Fouts. This was in the mid to late 1960s. I am one of seven children, and my father was not going to send us to GMA because he wanted all of us to go to the same school. When the institution changed to Woodward Academy and became coed, he enrolled my oldest sister, who started eighth grade in 1967. I saw three siblings go to Woodward before I arrived there. The discipline appeared daunting, but I was already used to the nuns in Catholic school. I did enjoy the regimentation and clear-cut rules that existed at Woodward. I liked having teachers for each of the different subjects and found the quality of teaching to be good and the courses interesting. Woodward was still very military then and a lot of my teachers still had military ranks. We used all the military acronyms like AWOL, etc., and your worst fear was getting called out by Dean Kruger during zero period. Half the students were boarders then, and a lot of the character of the school was based on the boarding environment.
Who were your major influences at the Academy?
There are many teachers and coaches who influenced me. In terms of leadership and motivation, I think I learned the most from Coach Graham Hixon, my algebra teacher and football coach. He was a strict disciplinarian and inspired respect and fear. He expected nothing less than 100% effort and was a good judge of character. I realized quickly that he dealt with each person individually and was able to get the most effort from each person by motivating them in that way. There was one sort of crazy guy on our team whom Coach Hixon would make run laps. This guy ran a lot of laps. One day in practice, I blew a blocking assignment and our quarterback got crushed by the defensive lineman I was supposed to have blocked. When Coach Hixon realized that I was the one who was at fault, he just looked down and shook his head expressing his disappointment in me. The gesture struck me to the core, and you can bet I hit that guy harder on the next play than I had all year. Making me run laps would not have achieved the same outcome, and he knew it. My first job out of orthopaedic training was in the Air Force overseas at a NATO base. I was a young doctor and had to lead men who were older than me, including several Vietnam vets. The voices of two people came into my mind constantly during those first few years. The first was my orthopaedic residency chairman and the second was Graham Hixon, who had taught me leadership skills on the football field. I had so many great teachers at Woodward that it is hard to narrow the list. Maj. Ferguson was very eccentric but was a fabulous teacher who made Latin and French somewhat fun to learn. He was totally devoted to teaching. I had several great English teachers including Bobby Alford, Cleo Hudson, and Carolyn Haldeman. Ms. Alford stressed creative thinking. Ms. Hudson always accused me of being too structured. (That has actually paid off in scientific writing.) Ms. Haldeman was so enthusiastic about literature it was hard not to like it. Bill Lineberry was one of the young “cool” teachers who arrived at Woodward in the mid-70s and was a great mentor for me. He is one of the first teachers who I felt really treated me like an “adult” and listened to my ideas thoughtfully before offering advice. He remains a friend today.
My classmates were close and competitive. In those days, we had regular, honors, and accelerated sections. The accelerated sections comprised about 25 people all of whom were hard-working and smart. You had to put in a solid effort to keep up with them, and all boats rose together as we tried to outdo each other. I remain close to many of them even today.
How did Woodward help you define yourself and your interest/passions in life?
Even in those days Woodward offered a variety of extracurricular activities including student government, writing opportunities, arts, sports, and service clubs. Although the central focus was always academic, we were strongly encouraged to participate in activities that interested us. I find that my life now is not very different from my life at Woodward in that I have a focus in my profession but am also involved in leadership roles, writing, and service activities. At Woodward, I participated in student government and Interact Club and played football and soccer. These opportunities allowed me to grow and see what I really liked. I have continued to take on leadership roles in local, state, national and international organizations in orthopedics and found these very fulfilling. It has been a great opportunity to meet people from around the world and work with them on challenging projects. My practice is clinical and academic, and I am constantly writing scientific articles using the foundation I obtained at Woodward. I have remained active in my church and participate in mercy missions to Haiti on a yearly basis. My sports now consist of very bad golf and pathetic trudging on the elliptical machine but one must embrace life’s changes.
“I love Woodward’s commitment to diversity and its focus on education and responsibility. By diversity, I am not only referring to race, ethnicity, and religion but also the fact that each child is different and brings different interests and skills to the table.”
Tell us about your college education and early career.
I went to Harvard for college and, like my brother before me, graduated in three years thanks to AP exams and a good foundation from Woodward. I was sure I wanted to be a physician when I left Woodward and got on the fast track for pre-med studies at Harvard. I played on the rugby team and worked with the Harvard Catholic Student Organization.I went to Columbia University in New York City, where I ultimately stayed for 10 full years completing medical school, orthopedic residency training, and fellowship training in shoulder surgery. Being one of seven children, I had to finance my post-graduate education. I got a scholarship from the U.S. Air Force that paid for medical school. Between residency and fellowship, I worked for four years at the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing Hospital at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxford, England. It was a fabulous experience for me and my family. I met my wife, Mary, in the Air Force. She is a family practice physician who was in the same program. We went to England with two children and came back with four. This was an incredible growing experience for me. The Cold War was going full blast when we arrived in England in 1988, and we were constantly in the field doing chemical warfare training. By 1990, our focus changed to the Middle East and before we knew it we were in the middle of Desert Storm. That was quite the learning experience for a doctor, and fortunately we did not see the number casualties we expected. I have the utmost respect for all those who put on the uniform and risk their lives for us, and I look back fondly on my active-duty days in the military. After one more year in New York City, I moved back to Atlanta in 1993. I joined Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic. Early in my career, I struggled to define myself as a subspecialist focusing only in the shoulder and elbow. This required a determination and a focused plan including research, scientific publications, and presentations around the country.
Please describe for us the arc of your professional/life journey.
Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic is made up of a fantastic group of surgeons who work at the highest level, and I am honored to be a member. I was asked to join the Atlanta Braves medical team in 1998 and worked with them for a total of 19 seasons. I was lead orthopedist for the last 10 years and owe my success to strong mentoring by my senior partners and a lot of hard work. Over the years, I have served as a president of Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic, chairman of the Department of Orthopedics at Piedmont Hospital, chairman of the Perioperative Governance Council at Piedmont Hospital, president of the Georgia Orthopedic Society, president of the Georgia Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons and am in the presidential line of the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons which is an international group that publishes one of the major orthopedic journals. I have had the opportunity to teach including being preceptor for students and residents from Emory and Atlanta Medical Center. I give lectures about 10 times per year around the country and the world. I’ve been able to take advantage of the fact that I am bilingual to lecture in Spain and Latin America on complex topics of the shoulder.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I have a wonderful family with a great wife and four interesting, well-adjusted, and productive children. Everything else is secondary. Mary and I have been married for 33 years and counting. Our four children couldn’t be more different from each other and are all successful Woodward graduates. They all have college degrees and are embarking on very different careers. Each has developed a passion that is taking them in a unique direction. These interests all began for them at Woodward. Professionally, I am proud of the fact that I have developed a successful practice molded around my interests. I am able to help people with serious problems by performing complex surgeries that remain challenging even after all these years. I recently found my application essay for medical school and can honestly say that I’m doing exactly what I said I wanted to do. Every person is different and every career is different. I have found what has suited me and have made the most of it. I am proud of my body of work, and think it is important for students to realize that there is rarely a “home run event” that defines your career. You need to keep doing the right things over and over again for a long time to be successful.
Tell us about your family.
Fourteen Duraldes have graced the halls of Woodward. I am the middle child of seven siblings who went to Woodward between 1967 and 1984. My parents were immigrants from Spain, and my father felt that education was the key to success. I know for a fact that he was not satisfied that I had finished my education until I got my board certification in orthopaedics in 1990 at the age of 32! Woodward was a great start for us. Of my siblings, two went on to Emory, two of us to Harvard, one to Duke, and two to Vanderbilt. Four of us are now doctors. My four children, Rafael ’03, Elena ’05, Carlos ’08, and Ivan ’10, all went to Woodward and have had successful college careers. My brother Fernando ’73 sent his three children to WA as well. My kids have dispersed around the continent at least temporarily. Rafael is a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force working with the B1 bomber. He lives in South Dakota with his wife and two children. Elena is an interior designer in Portland, Maine. Carlos is a video game designer in Vancouver, and Ivan is a graduate student in actuarial science here in Atlanta.
Governing Board service is a very important commitment. Why do you choose to devote so much time and energy to your alma mater?
Education of future generations is a wonderful legacy. I greatly enjoy teaching personally and realize how difficult it is to do well. Woodward has always done an outstanding job and has kept up with the latest methods of teaching throughout its history. I love Woodward’s commitment to diversity and its focus on education and responsibility. By diversity, I am not only referring to race, ethnicity, and religion but also the fact that each child is different and brings different interests and skills to the table. Woodward offers challenging programs not only academically but also in a vast number of other areas that allow each child to flourish. You don’t have to pick between being a nerd or a jock to fit in at Woodward. All of my kids are very different, and all flourished at Woodward. I also feel that we are a family of Woodward alumni all working to make it in the world, and I want to make sure that the institution does everything possible to support our alumni. I can’t think of a better commitment on which to focus. My belief in the mission of Woodward and my feeling of gratitude to the school fuel my commitment to the institution.
M.D., Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons 1983