Give Him a Hand

Dr. Stephen O’Connell



Dr. Stephen O’Connell set his career goals early. In fact, he had his life mapped out soon after graduating — from kindergarten.

"In my first-grade yearbook, I said that I wanted to go to Notre Dame, study medicine, and be a surgeon," he says. He succeeded on all counts.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., he idolized his family’s physician and wanted to follow in his footsteps. And in a family of Fighting Irish fans, O’Connell’s choice of university was a given: "I think I was a junior before my dad told me there were other colleges," he says.

O’Connell graduated from Notre Dame, magna cum laude, in 1978 and earned his M.D. in 1982 from University of Maryland in Baltimore. He came to the Coachella Valley in 1988 and is a partner and director of hand and upper extremity surgery at Desert Orthopedic Center. He is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a certificate in hand surgery, and director of occupational therapy and hand therapy at Eisenhower Medical Center.

For O’Connell, choosing orthopedic medicine involved timing and bit of Irish luck."When I was a medical student, I went over to [Johns] Hopkins to do my orthopedic rotation, and it was, I guess, fortuitous that a couple of people were sick and they needed help. As a junior medical student, I got to do a lot of things — more than maybe I would normally get to do — and I really had a great, fun time," he explains.

"I tend to be someone who really likes mechanical things. In fact, I paid my way through medical school building swimming pools. I always liked construction; and, really, orthopedic surgeons are just construction guys with really nice equipment."

O’Connell began his career in joint replacement, but found it monotonous performing the same operation repeatedly. He chose to pursue a hand and shoulder specialty, which appeals to his precise, energetic personality.

"Hand surgery is very meticulous, and I tend to be a very focused, meticulous person. We do a wide variety of surgeries — tendons, nerves, muscles, bones. So we cover a gamut. It’s never boring."

O’Connell’s Rancho Mirage practice allows him to be part sleuth, part master builder. Coming up with a diagnosis is like solving a mystery, which is the toughest part of the job, he says. The mechanics of the hand are complicated; and once he identifies a problem, he tailors a surgery to fix it.

"Intellectually, it’s very stimulating trying to figure out the problems of the hand. And technically it’s very demanding, because there’s not a lot of room for error. If you’re 3 or 4 millimeters off in the knee, it’s probably not going to be a big deal. Half a millimeter in the hand could be a disaster."

On a daily basis, O’Connell sees about 50 patients, with problems ranging from arthritis to fractures and nerve damage. He also puts in 14-hour days in the operating room, where his repertoire includes nearly 100 different hand surgeries. This includes a revolutionary knuckle-replacement operation using pyrocarbon implants that is so new the FDA approves it only for humanitarian purposes.

O’Connell prides himself on his commitment to his practice, so he strives to stay on top of developments in his field, frequently lecturing at orthopedic meetings. His top priority, however, is family: his wife, two children, and two stepchildren. In his down time, he’s a keen golfer, often playing a few holes in the evening with his wife, Jean.

"It’s my greatest accomplishment to be a committed father and a committed surgeon, no matter what happens," he says.

— Joan Page McKenna

Palm Springs Life

Related Articles

10 Things To Do in Palm Springs This Weekend

Palm Springs Life helps plan out your weekend in Palm Springs and the desert resort cities with concerts, events, restaurants, nightlife, clubs and the world of entertainment only found in the desert.

Wesley Eure Will Co-Emcee at Desert AIDS Project Benefit

Chelsea Lane Bodywear presents Under & Out 3, a fashion show and poolside party on Oct. 5 as part of a benefit for the Desert AIDS Project.

"Top Rock" Commands Stage at Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

"Top Rock" brings a brash, rockin' musical tribute to the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs on Friday and Saturday nights through September.

Spa at Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage Focuses on Indoor-Outdoor Wellness

The Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage Spa has unveiled a full menu of treatments and fitness offerings, with a focus on indoor-outdoor wellness.

Listening to Your Autonomous Voice

Listen to your autonomous voice, and find the happiness you forsake when you are too distracted to be absorbed in something you love.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.