Paul R. Lipscomb, professor emeritus, founded the department of Orthopaedic Surgery in July 1969.  Although Dr. Lipscomb passed away in 2004, his legacy as a renowned orthopaedic hand specialist and a beloved leader in the department continues.  The department's alumni society and library are named in his honor.

Michael W. Chapman, whose contributions and leadership in the field of orthopaedics and orthopaedic trauma are internationally recognized, assumed the chairmanship in 1979. His leadership and guidance during the next 20 years made the UC Davis Health System's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery one of the top-ranked orthopaedic programs in the country. As professor emeritus since his retirement in 1999, Dr. Chapman continues to play an influential role in the department and the university.

After an extensive national search, George T. Rab, assumed the chair of the department in October 2000. He holds the Ben Ali Shriners Chair in Pediatric Orthopaedics. Specializing in pediatric orthopaedics, biomechanics and gait analysis, Dr. Rab is recognized as a world-class pediatric orthopaedist.

In September, 2006, Paul E. Di Cesare became the chair of the department after a national search was conducted. Dr. Di Cesare was previously the director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases Orthopaedic Institute in New York and held an appointment as professor at New York University Medical Center.   Dr. Di Cesare is an internationally known adult reconstructive surgeon of the hip and knee and is considered to be a leader in the development of total hip resurfacing.

In September, 2011, Richard Marder became the acting chair of the department. He was confirmed as chair July 2013 and continues in that role today.