Rankin affirms commitment to unity, diversity
As the incoming first vice president of the AAOS, E. Anthony Rankin, MD, is the first African-American ever to hold that position.
But he is quick to note that he owes much to those who have preceded him, particularly to those who served as his role models and mentors. “Because so many people encouraged me throughout my life and during my professional experience, I know how important and rewarding it is to help others see their potential,” he says.
A family of role models
His journey began 66 years ago through the inspiration of family members. “I was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in a house built by my grandfather, Edgar Rankin, Sr., a carpenter,” recalls Dr. Rankin. Although his grandfather had little formal education, due to circumstances and lack of opportunity, he became a community leader and activist who focused on encouraging voter registration.
Dr. Rankin’s father, Edward E. Rankin, Jr., was a highly regarded and respected educator and athletic coach. “Because post graduate education was not available to African-Americans in the South, my father earned his master’s degree from Springfield College in Massachusetts,” recalls Dr. Rankin. “He subsequently became president of Mississippi Industrial College, where he inspired many African-American students.”
Although Edward Rankin had initially wanted to serve in the military, the residuals of an open tibia fracture from a college football injury in the pre-antibiotic era made him ineligible for service. “His leg, and probably his life, was saved through the charitable act of an orthopaedic giant, Willis C. Campbell, MD,” explains Dr. Rankin.
Founder of the Campbell Clinic, Dr. Campbell volunteered his services and expertise at the small segregated Collins Chapel Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He made weekly rounds and advised the lone black physician, Dr. Collins, about ongoing treatment of Rankin’s badly injured leg.
Dr. Rankin’s Uncle Mike, who served in the Army during World War II, was another role model. “His love of the Army and his success there were quite inspirational to me,” Dr. Rankin continues. “I credit him with my decision to apply to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for my orthopaedic training.”
Because foreign languages and advanced science courses were not available at the segregated public high school Dr. Rankin attended, “I entered the Laboratory High School at Mississippi Industrial College, which enabled students like me to become better prepared for college.”
While attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., Dr. Rankin lived with his Aunt Maxine, who was executive secretary to the University president. “I appreciated her firm guidance and encouragement during my college years,” Dr. Rankin says, “as well as her suggestion that I consider medicine as a career.”
At Lincoln, Dr. Rankin joined the ROTC and became a cadet commander of his unit. “I was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant in the regular Army after graduation, and then I received a deferment from active duty to attend medical school.”
Dr. Rankin decided to attend Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. “The college’s origins,” Dr. Rankin explains, “go back to a young white man, Samuel Meharry, who was helped by a black freeman when Meharry’s salt wagon broke down in a remote area of Kentucky in the early 1800s. The freedman’s family took Meharry in for the night, shared what food they had and helped him repair his wagon the following day.
“Upon leaving the black family, Meharry said that he had no money to give them, ‘but when I can, I shall do something for your race.’ This small act of kindness and generosity led to a milestone in the history of medical education for African-Americans.
“More than 20 years later,” Dr. Rankin continues, “Meharry contributed $500 toward the Medical Department of Central Tennessee College. Then, in 1876, Meharry and his three brothers gave $20,000 to establish Meharry Medical College, which, until recently, has trained half of the African-Americans practicing medicine in the United States.”
While doing his internship and residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1965 through 1970, Dr. Rankin met Walter Metz, MD, “who, at 6 feet 7 inches, was an impressive military presence, and was also dedicated to organized medicine. He was active in AAOS and in the Trauma Society.”
Dr. Rankin realized that the volunteer services of orthopaedic surgeons such as Colonel Metz are critical to AAOS and other organizations whose mission is to offer professional educational opportunities and high quality medical care to patients.
After completing his residency in 1970, Dr. Rankin was sent to Viet Nam to work in the 12th and 95th Evacuation Hospitals. In addition to their regular orthopaedic duties, “Daniel D. Morgan Jr., MD, and I assisted a Vietnamese military general surgeon with orthopaedic procedures at his hospital and encouraged him to spend time with us, learning our techniques.” They also established an orthopaedic clinic for war orphans, which provided the only orthopaedic care available to this population.
Dr. Rankin received the Bronze Star Award and the Army Commendation Medal for his military service. He also witnessed, first hand, how many advances in orthopaedics and trauma care are the result of war experiences.
When he returned to civilian orthopaedics in the early 1970s, Dr. Rankin met another important role model and mentor. “During the 14 years that I worked with Charles Epps, MD, the former chief of orthopaedics at Howard University, I was inspired by his dedication to service,” Dr. Rankin says. “In 2000, he was awarded the Academy’s first Humanitarian Award. A tireless educator, he has trained more minority orthopaedic surgeons than any other single individual.”
Dr. Rankin’s deep appreciation of the role models who have enriched his life have made him a mentor for young physicians as well—whether through his clinical practice, teaching or his many volunteer activities.
His professional accomplishments include serving as president of the District of Columbia Orthopaedic Society, the Eastern Orthopaedic Association, the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, and as a member of the board of directors for the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society. He is also the recipient of numerous honors and awards.
Today, Dr. Rankin is chief of orthopaedic service at Providence Hospital, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at Howard University College of Medicine and clinical associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He has published more than 36 peer-reviewed scientific articles. In addition to serving as a medical consultant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he is also a member of the editorial board for Orthopaedics and served as editor-in-chief of the AAOS Bulletin from 2000-2005.
As one would imagine, Dr. Rankin served as the first chair of the AAOS Volunteer Orthopaedic Care committee, which focuses on domestic volunteerism. He was also active on the Academy’s Diversity Advisory Board, established to promote the delivery of culturally competent care and to support efforts to diversify the profession and orthopaedic work force.
In considering his more than 40-year career and upcoming role in the Academy, Dr. Rankin is enthused about AAOS’ new governance and strategic direction. “AAOS will soon celebrate its 75th anniversary,” Dr. Rankin notes, “and our new initiatives will be instrumental when facing today’s challenges.”
Members now recognize the priorities that have emerged, Dr. Rankin explains. Increased education and advocacy efforts on behalf of physicians and patients—“the foundation of our Association.” Research leading to an evidence-based practice. Partnering with specialty societies for orthopaedic unity. Necessity of professional diversity and culturally competent care.
“We must be there for each other and lead the way to achieve quality healthcare,” Dr. Rankin says. Dr. Rankin reminds us that the history and evolution of this country reflects our desire for inclusiveness—in the military, in education, in the corporate world, and in professional settings. “The more inclusive and diverse we are in orthopaedics, the greater our potential to achieve our goals for our patients and our profession.”