Orthopedic Surgeon Returns to Rocky Mount to Fulfill Childhood Dream

Clay Nelson

Growing up, Clay Nelson would spend his Friday nights at high school football games in the Rocky Mount area. But unlike the rest of the crowd, he wasn’t there to support one of the teams. Instead, he was there to help his father, Dr. Greg Nelson, who was providing medical assistance as the local sports medicine expert.

“Most Friday nights, we went to cover football games,” Clay remembers. “On Saturdays, my dad had a free sports medicine clinic.”

“That was one of the reasons I really got interested in orthopedics. Being able to treat athletes and get them back to playing as fast as possible was something I saw my dad doing and I wanted to be a part of that, too.”

In addition to the Friday night commitments, Nelson also had numerous opportunities to visit the operating room with his father. It was there, he says, that his passion for orthopedics really took off.

“The planning of each surgery, the precision of the techniques, and the ability to take a complex medical problem and execute a treatment solution for each patient inspired me to pursue this career,” recounted Nelson.

Nelson’s interest in orthopedics continued as he grew older. After college, he attended medical school in Virginia, followed by a residency and fellowship in Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS respectively. He specialized in orthopedics and sports medicine and honed his skills using state of the art techniques and equipment. 

After completing his studies, Nelson didn’t think twice about where he would go next. Following his father’s footsteps, he joined the UNC Orthopedics at Nash team in the summer of 2020.

“My wife and I are excited to be back in Rocky Mount,” he said. “I grew up here and I’m excited to raise my kids here and be a part of the community.”

father son NelsonFor Nelson, the opportunity to provide orthopedic care for the community he grew up in was an easy decision to make.

At UNC Orthopedics at Nash, Dr. Nelson will perform a range of procedures for patients of all ages. However, his arrival is especially valuable for hip replacement patients.

“I take what’s called an anterior approach when performing hip replacements,” said Nelson. “That means I make the incision at the front of the hip and not the side. This can lead to a faster recovery and a reduced dislocation rate for some patients.”

In addition to hip replacements, Dr. Nelson will also perform shoulder, elbow, and knee replacement surgeries.

With the addition of Dr. Nelson, UNC Orthopedics at Nash expands its team to six providers, all practicing at Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount. For patients, this offers a local alternative to traveling to the Triangle or Greenville for top-quality orthopedic care.

Having a local practice and providers also means patients can complete the full process, from diagnosis to surgery to rehabilitation, all right at home.

“It’s a huge benefit,” said Nelson. “Having your treatment right here where you live means friends and family can be around to support you. That can make a world of difference.”

Having family around has certainly made a difference for Dr. Nelson. What started as a hobby helping his father at local high school football games has grown into a calling that will impact the lives of countless residents of the Twin Counties.

Image of Clay Nelson with father, Dr. Greg Nelson,

about to perform surgery