AAOS Bulletin - April, 2005

Laura L. Tosi, MD, receives 2005 Diversity Award

Recognized for her efforts in “changing the face of orthopaedics”

By Jeannie Glickson

Laura L. Tosi, MD, of the division of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., has been named the winner of the 2005 AAOS Diversity Award. In presenting the award, Robert W. Bucholz, MD, AAOS 2004-2005 president, noted that Dr. Tosi “has been a powerful force in changing the face of orthopaedics and providing the very best of care to every child.”

Robert W. Bucholz, MD, 2004-2005 AAOS president, presented the 2005 Diversity Award to Laura L. Tosi, MD, during ceremonies at the AAOS Annual Meeting.

Dr. Tosi’s career embodies the reasons for the award, for she has dedicated herself to providing care to underserved populations, providing culturally competent care to many diverse groups and mentoring women and minorities to achieve excellence in orthopaedics. The award includes a $5,000 donation to a cause selected by the honoree that will lead to greater diversity in orthopaedics.

High energy, high service

“If you have ever been in a room with Dr. Tosi, you have experienced her high energy level,” said Daneca M. DiPaolo, MD, in a letter supporting Dr. Tosi’s nomination. Dr. DiPaolo, the immediate past president of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS), continued, “She uses that energy to motivate people to be excited about orthopaedics. Her actions and demeanor convey a message of inclusivity and welcome.”

“Dr. Tosi has been one of my mentors,” wrote Robert H. Wilson, MD, assistant professor of hand and upper extremity surgery in the orthopaedic division at Howard University. “She is fair, conscientious and sensitive to the issues concerning women and minority residents and attendings.”

That sentiment was echoed by Holly J. Duck, MD, who nominated Dr. Tosi for the award. “Laura has been a resplendent example to all of us,” she wrote. “She has mentored young women and worked to reduce obstacles for women and minorities. She has served a diverse popultion. She has worked tirelessly for the AAOS. She is the quintessential candidate.”

“Her contributions,” wrote J. Sybil Biermann, MD, who also supported the nomination, “include her ability to motivate others and allow them to contribute while developing their own skills and careers.”

From science project to orthopaedist

For Dr. Tosi, it all began in the sixth grade. “I did a science fair project on the cardiovascular system,” she explains. “I was fascinated by anatomy and physiology. I knew I wanted only one career: medicine.”

But when she told her teachers that she wanted to be a doctor, she was told, “Oh, that’s sweet, but nice girls don’t become doctors.” Dr. Tosi went on to prove them wrong.

Instead of immediately entering college after her high school graduation, Dr. Tosi worked in rural Kentucky as a midwife’s assistant. “The experience helped me stay focused on my pre-med studies when I finally went off to college during the Vietnam War,” she says.

When she entered Harvard Medical School, her educational and professional goals centered on improving health care delivery. She also spent time studying public policy at the Kennedy School of Government and at the Rand Corporation in California.

Although she started in internal medicine, she quickly realized that it wasn’t her calling. “My happiest moments were helping the orthopaedic residents during my emergency room rotations,” she says. “I could fix things with my own two hands.”

Luckily, she had support. “New York Orthopaedic Hospital (Columbia) had a long tradition of supporting women in orthopaedics,” says Dr. Tosi. Barbara Stimson, MD, (who was featured in the Academy’s Legacy of Heroes) had run the fracture service in the 1930s, and Rosamond (Roz) Kane, MD, was on the pediatric orthopaedic staff.

“Many attendings at Columbia, particularly Dr. David Roye, mentored and supported me, but having Roz there was critical,” says Dr. Tosi. “Here was a wife and mom practicing orthopaedics and loving it! It made it so much easier to imagine doing it myself.”

During her final year as an orthopaedic resident, Dr. Tosi attended the first RJOS meeting. “There were about 40 of us, and it was the most exciting group of women I had ever met,” says Dr. Tosi. “I recognized that to deliver the best possible care, the orthopaedic surgery workforce must be as diverse—in terms of gender, race and ethnicity—as the patient population that we serve. I wanted to see more women and minorities enter our profession and I knew it wouldn’t happen without a push.”

Pushing her specialty

Dr. Tosi has fostered culturally competent care in the clinical setting as well as at the institutional level. She has mentored several young physicians while maintaining a busy practice focused on care for children with disabilities.

“I first had the opportunity to hear Laura Tosi speak in 1991,” wrote Ellen Raney, MD, current president of the RJOS. “Her message was that of changing the system by encouraging and assisting women and minorities to take leadership roles. Her message, combined with her obvious successes, served to enable me to see colleagues where I had previously seen adversaries.”

Informally, Dr. Tosi is a “tirelessly giving mentor.” But she also uses her organizational skills to advance the cause of diversity. As a founding member and past president of RJOS, Dr. Tosi helped to develop research awards and traveling fellowships. She has written articles on women in orthopaedic surgery and topics relevant to women’s musculoskeletal health, particularly osteoporosis.

Her AAOS activities include participation in the Council on Research, the Women’s Health Issues Committee, the Leadership Fellows Program (as a mentor) and, until just recently, on the Board of Directors. In addition to her RJOS activities, Dr. Tosi is an active member of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine and the National Osteoporosis Foundation. In 2004, she chaired a workshop, “The Influence of Sex and Gender on Musculoskeletal Health,” cosponsored by the AAOS and the National Institutes for Health.

“Disease prevalence rates differ for men and women,” says Dr. Tosi, “and among some American populations, this difference is dramatic. The life expectancy of a black woman is 74.1 years, compared to 64.9 years for a black male. Our conference focused on emerging research that demonstrates that every organ in the body, not just those related to reproduction, can respond differently on the basis of sex. These different responses result from chromosomes as well as hormones.”

Dr. Tosi likes to paraphrase the words she recently heard from former Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson when he introduced the Surgeon General’s Report on Osteoporosis and Bone Health. “I want to help all Americans live long and live well,” she says.

Using human resources

“Diversity is about recognizing and using resources,” wrote Dr. DiPaolo. “Dr. Laura Lowe Tosi, personally and professionally, has focused on human resources.”

In accepting the award, Dr. Tosi said, “I am proud of what orthopaedics has accomplished, but I am deeply concerned that both the public and policymakers have very little understanding of the critical role we play in the nation’s health. I believe that the musculoskeletal issues of women and minorities offer us a special opportunity to showcase the tremendous strides that have been made in our field.”

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