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Rivalry splits USF orthopedics staff

The shoulder surgery seemed to go well, but something was troubling Dr. Robert J. Schultz. At the last minute, he had learned the resident who was supposed to assist him had been called away. So Schultz canceled his other surgeries for the day, including an exploratory operation on a runner's knee. "He preferred to do it with someone else," said the knee patient, USF medical student Malhar Gore. Without a resident, "he said it would take double the time, for no good reason."

On that day, Jan. 29, a long-simmering rivalry between Schultz and his orthopedics colleague at the University of South Florida (USF) medical school, Dr. Phillip Spiegel, broke into the open.

The dispute is the most personal part of a larger controversy over what is best for USF's once prominent orthopedics department.

Recently, various parties have begun questioning both doctors' professional conduct and the judgment of medical dean Dr. Wilton Bunch. Some worry that patient care has been compromised.

Most doctors at USF and its teaching hospital, Tampa General Hospital, decline to discuss their concerns in detail, saying they could be sued for slander or even malpractice.

But this much is clear:

Bunch hired Schultz as chairman against the recommendations of a university search committee.