By El Webb

Former Lobo Team Physician Shares Advice for Upcoming Leadership, Looks Forward to Retirement

Longtime orthopedic clinician and former Lobo athletic physician Robert Schenck talks about career before retirement

Robert Schenck, MD, likes to quip that he’s been at The University of New Mexico for almost a quarter of a century.

Schenck, who began his time at UNM as the Lobos’ team physician and worked his way up to being a professor and Chair of the School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, retires June 30, after 23 years.

As chair, Schenck said he was able to maintain a clinical practice of sports medicine while allowing for growth of his faculty and providing leadership opportunities whenever possible. 

Above all else, though, he said he especially enjoyed caring for the complex patient who, in addition to health care, needed a listening ear to help solve problems. 

Quoting Maya Angelou, Schenck said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


I’ve been so fortunate to have come to UNM. There are so many wonderful leaders at UNM orthopedics that I was able to run a department very effectively with good work-life balance and wellness.

Robert Schenck, MD

“People won’t remember how you fixed their fracture or delivered their baby or treated their cancer, but they’ll remember how you made them feel,” he added. “We have to remember the human side of what patients are going through. That’s what I’ve really loved most about medicine.”

Schenck said that along with tending to his patients, he will miss spending time teaching and learning from his colleagues as well.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have come to UNM,” he said. “There are so many wonderful leaders at UNM orthopedics that I was able to run a department very effectively with good work-life balance and wellness.”

In 1990, Schenck began his career as a full-time academic physician as an instructor at the University of Texas in San Antonio, where he taught and practiced for 10 years. In 2001, he moved to Albuquerque to become head team physician for the UNM Lobos. 

“There were some fun times traveling with Lobo football,” he said. “That was a hoot.”

In 2005, he was selected as Chair of the UNM Department of Orthopaedics. Schenck said it was important to him to focus on a culture of professionalism and camaraderie in the department. Knowing this culture change would take three to five years, he remained patient and ultimately grew the department to be a flagship group at UNM. 

“I surrounded myself with like-minded individuals,” he said. “When I say like-minded, I mean that I want diversity of thought, but I mean people who are positive and wake up in the morning and think the day is going to be great.”

His creed while in his chair position at UNM always followed “POISE”: “Professionalism, Outcomes, and Integrity for Sustainable Excellence.” 

Elaborating on this, Schenck said his success is reliant on interpersonal skills, fiscal responsibility and understanding the institution’s culture. Doing the right thing, he said, combined with engaged listening, makes for effective, efficient, and straightforward decision making. 

“Our job is to listen to problems and solve them, and if you’re not into that, don’t be a chair,” he said. “If you want to make things better, you have to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. You have to listen to it and come up with strategies.”

He said his focus of leadership is active listening, collaboration and fairness while recognizing that flexibility is paramount for adaptation so he and his colleagues can remain successful in the global environment of academic medicine.

“Seeing my residents graduate and seeing them grow, I had so much joy in being a resident educator,” he said. “As chair, I really made it part of my goal to attract all this faculty that love teaching, working and being role models for residents.”

As for advice he’d give to up-and-coming leaders at UNM, Schenck said listening is key.

“Don’t come up with the ideas and don’t think your ideas are the right ideas,” he advised. “Listen to the people around you and come up with ideas together. If I listen to people first and then we come up with a solution, that’s always going to be a winner.”

In December 2021, the UNM Center of Excellence for Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation officially opened its doors on the UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho Campus. The state-of-the-art facility unites clinical, educational and research activities under one roof.

The $21 million project that was funded through the city’s gross receipts tax revenues, with some of the money coming from cash on hand and $15 million from bonds raised against future tax receipts, was a team effort, led by Jamie Silva-Steel, Sandoval Regional Medical Center’s (SRMC) president and CEO.

“The Center of Excellence is a beautiful building that combines physical therapy, orthopedics medicine, musculoskeletal medicine and other areas, as well as research and teaching,” he said. “We owe a lot to the leadership at SRMC for making that happen. I’m very grateful to Jamie Silva-Steel for making that happen.”

Schenck said the project has been in planning for about a decade.

“I helped out a lot with that project but there were many other people who carried the torch,” he said. “What I did was a decade earlier, but even after we had a lot of things set up, the decision was made to go in a different direction.”

Ultimately, though, Schenck said he’s glad the Center of Excellence was built adjacent to SRMC, instead of the original vision, to construct it near the main Albuquerque North Campus. The facility, which also provides ample space for research, is “an important part of the city of Rio Rancho’s vision,” Schenck said.

“It was tough hearing that news, but because of it, we ended up creating such a winning team from it,” he said. “When the second round happened and the City of Rio Rancho helped finance it and came up with the project, we were such a solid team and were able to make it a fun process.”

The Center of Excellence was built during the COVID pandemic, and the majority of UNM Health’s joint replacement surgeries, including total hip, total knee, foot and ankle, elbow and shoulders, are now performed there.

“Like out of the ashes of the pandemic came the Center of Excellence,” he said. “It’s a cool landmark for UNM Orthopedics and UNM in general.”

Schenck said his time at UNM has been instrumental in his career’s success. He added that he is thankful for the support from leadership, which has helped him help others grow.

“I am so grateful for all that has been given to me here,” he said. “The people have been wonderful to me. I’ve learned so much and leaned on many people. My career has globally gone in a beautiful direction.”

Even after all of these accomplishments, Schenck remains humble and said he doesn’t see his retirement as that big of a deal. 

“It’s not as symbolic as James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, walking into the cornfield. I’m not following Shoeless Joe Jackson into another dimension or something,” he said, laughing. “I’m just retiring.”

While still bittersweet, Schenck said retirement is a “necessity” for the sake of up-and-coming leadership to take over.

“I wanted to step down from being chair, because when you’ve been in leadership positions for 18-plus years, it can be really hard to let go,” he said. “But I just felt it was time to step away.”

He said he might do something else, or he might just stay retired. First and foremost, though, he said he wants to relax, spend time with his wife Trish, and take time to really think through what comes next.

“Maybe I’ll be a barista at Starbucks or become a flight attendant,” he joked. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet, but I know it will be a really exciting journey for me.”

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