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Dr. John T. Heffernan, MD Spotlight

Tacoma Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. John Heffernan enjoys the outside activities the Pacific Northwest has to offer. He and his wife are avid downhill skiers and have already been up many times this season to the snowy mountains at Crystal and Alpental. Dr. Heffernan has a surprising new goal for this next Spring – climb and ski Mt. Rainier!

Passion for Orthopedics and Shoulder Surgery

Growing up around family and relatives in the healthcare field inspired Dr. Heffernan to become a doctor. He started off as an undergraduate studying international relations and history. While he loved learning about World and American history, he soon started thinking about what he wanted his daily life to be like. Looking at the example set by his father, who is a physician, he kept coming back to medicine. He found that taking care of one patient at a time, whether in the clinic or in the operating room, was a natural fit for his personality and focus. “I like meeting and getting to know people, hearing about their health and their goals, and finding a way forward to help them get better,” states Dr. Heffernan.

When asked why he chose to be an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the shoulder, Dr. Heffernan replied, “Being a shoulder surgeon is a ton of fun. It is really gratifying work and is constantly evolving.” He notes the field of orthopedics has advanced so rapidly over the last few decades and shoulder surgery in particular has led the way. “We have minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques we didn’t have in the past. We have dozens of different designs for shoulder replacements that are improving outcomes and longevity. And we have evolving new procedures to help patients with problems we couldn’t treat before, like repeat rotator cuff tears and very unstable shoulders. It is an amazing time to be practicing shoulder surgery,” says Dr. Heffernan.

Specializing in the shoulder allows him to take care of patients throughout their lifetime; from the young with sports injuries, the middle aged needing arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs, the elderly with arthritis conditions, and patients of any age with fractures of the shoulder and elbow. Early on, before medical school, he worked in an ambulatory surgery center where he came to love the comradery of the operating room, how the surgery center team worked together, and the flow of surgery.

The most meaningful aspect of his work is the “ability to put patients back together again.” He listens to his patients to learn what their goals are and how he can get them better by working together. Most patients Dr. Heffernan sees with shoulder or elbow problems end up healing well without an operation, so he helps his patients maximize their options before deciding on a surgery together. Seeing the satisfaction that a patient has when they are back to living their life to the fullest is one of the most rewarding parts of his work.

Community Driven

Dr. Heffernan is a fifth-generation native of the Puget Sound region and is proud to return home and take care of the people of his community. He has volunteered his time as a team physician at the high school and college level, as well on international medical missions, and looks to continue this work in the future. He and his wife, who is also a physician, enjoy cycling, hiking, being on the water, and mostly spending time with their family.


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