Alvin H. Crawford, MD, receives AAOS Diversity Award

Alvin H. Crawford, MD, receives AAOS Diversity Award

By Peter Pollack

During yesterday’s Ceremonial Meeting, Richard F. Kyle, MD, presented the 2007 AAOS Diversity Award to Alvin H. Crawford, MD, for his long history of encouraging diversity in orthopaedics. Dr. Crawford earned his credentials in diversity directly alongside his credentials in medicine, and ever since, has actively promoted the concept of bringing people of diverse backgrounds into orthopaedics.

From humble roots

Growing up in the ghetto community of Orange Mound, near Memphis, Tenn., Dr. Crawford learned early that he wasn’t always considered equal to those around him. At the time, his innocence allowed him to accept the situation as merely the standard state of affairs in the South.

“I rode in the back of the bus when I went into town, but we were so secluded that I didn’t have to go into town for a lot of things,” explained Dr. Crawford. “It was just a different environment. I guess I didn’t know any better—how bad off I was.”

An accomplished clarinet player, Dr. Crawford suggested that it may have been his connection to music that kept him from falling into the trap of thinking he wasn’t good enough—that he didn’t deserve what others took for granted. “Maybe music gives it to you,” he says. “I can sort of go with it, and you can’t hurt me.”

Whatever the reason, his segregated surroundings didn’t stop him from seeking a quality education. “I think young children should know,” said Dr. Crawford, “the only thing that’s free in life—that no one can touch—is your education.”

In 1960, he earned his undergraduate degree at the school then known as Tennessee A&I University (now Tennessee State)—an institution with a long list of diversity credentials of its own. Established in 1912 with just a few hundred students as a so-called “normal school” for the education of African-American teachers, Tennessee A&I boasted more than 6,000 students, and was home to the very first Air Force ROTC unit for African-Americans by the time Dr. Crawford attended.

Dr. Crawford wasn’t satisfied with simply achieving a bachelor’s degree. He wanted to become a physician—an unusual goal for an African-American at that time. He remembers being advised that, although his grades were excellent and his work ethic applauded, he might be attempting to reach too far. He was told that he might have to settle for becoming a nurse surgeon, because African-Americans didn’t get to be doctors.

Richard F. Kyle, MD, presented the 2007 AAOS Diversity Award to Alvin H. Crawford, MD, on Thursday morning.

Persevering to succeed

Yet Dr. Crawford persevered. He went on to become the first African-American graduate of the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee, then served his internship at the Boston Naval Hospital. He performed fellowships at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital (clinical fellowship in orthopaedic surgery), New England Baptist Hospital (constructive surgery of the hip) and Children’s Hospital Medical Center (pediatric orthopaedics), then went on to the Alfred I. duPont Institute (pediatric orthopaedics) of Wilmington, Del. He received his board certification in orthopaedic surgery in 1972, and since 1977 has been an oral examiner for AAOS.

A former officer in the U.S. Navy, Dr. Crawford actively served from 1964 to 1975, and was a reservist from 1976 to 1991. He has been liaison officer for the Naval Health Scholarship Program for Undergraduate Medical Students, and returned to active duty briefly in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.

Praise from colleagues

In supporting Dr. Crawford for the Diversity Award, Paul D. Sponseller, MD, wrote “I would like to give my highest recommendation to Alvin Crawford for the AAOS Diversity Award. He has built and sustained a teaching program in pediatric orthopaedics at the University of Cincinatti, which has made it one of the strongest divisions in orthopaedics. He has taken trainees from all branches of orthopaedics and all backgrounds.”

John P. Dormans, MD, chief of orthopaedic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine agreed. “Dr. Crawford has done a great deal to promote the values and benefits of diversity within the field of orthopaedic surgery,” he wrote. “This has been both at the local level, at the Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati, and also at the national level. [He] has worked tirelessly to train medical students, residents and especially, 31 fellows who have come from diverse and varied backgrounds. He has represented the diversity of our Academy during his 23 foreign visiting lectureships, and his participation in 24 other societies.”

A true educator, Dr. Crawford responded to the accolades with more questions: “Why is diversity important? What does it do? It is not a ‘black-and-white’ issue. Accepting other people’s values—whether they’re African-American, Irish, or Latino—I think that’s what diversity should be. Being able to accept other people’s values, then relate and communicate. That’s what diversity is.

“I see myself in everyone I train, and recently I’ve come to see them as training me. I’ve been learning for the last 20 years,” he laughed. “I still haven’t gotten there, but I’ve learned a lot from people who don’t necessarily look or think like me.”

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