April 1997 Bulletin

Women orthopaedists look to future

Urge female medical students to join specialty

"You can treat both men and women of all ages for all types of problems from congenital problems vs. sports injuries vs. arthritis when they get older. And you can be very creative in the way you treat the problems. The goal of the treatment is to fit the treatment to the patient, not the patient to the treatment."
Rosemarie M. Morwessel, MD from
"Women in Orthopaedic Surgery."

Forty years after the late Ruth Jackson, MD, became the first woman orthopaedic surgeon certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, her namesake organization is stepping up its efforts to encourage women to become orthopaedists. About 40 percent of U.S. medical students are women, but only 2 percent of Academy members are women, Dr. Morwessel observes in the introduction to a videotape being developed by the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS).

Dr. Morwessel and five other women orthopaedic surgeons tell why they chose the specialty as a career and what their life is like today. They are shown in their office, with patients and during surgery. The video ends with Dr. Morwessel and Mary Lloyd Ireland, MD, offering advice to encourage women medical students to become orthopaedic surgeons.

The videotape initially will be provided to RJOS mentors and medical school libraries, and may be distributed to others on request. RJOS has an active mentoring program, which matches member volunteers with nearby medical schools in the U.S. and Canada to provide advice and guidance to women medical students in preparation for interviews for their orthopaedic residency, and to share their personal and professional experiences with young women as they progress through the ranks.

When Holly J. Duck, MD, recalls the reason why she became an orthopaedic surgeon, she thinks back to medical school when Dr. Morwessel visited her class. Knowing that another woman could become an orthopaedic surgeon convinced her she could do it, too.

Dr. Duck is now in a single specialty group practice in Madison, Wis., and Dr. Morwessel has shifted from academic orthopaedics to a sports medicine practice in Mobile, Ala., giving her more time for her family.

Claudia Thomas Carty, MD, in academic orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, became interested in orthopaedics because, she said, "it was hands-on work; you could touch patients. You could treat patients of many ages."

Throughout the videotape, the women talk about the satisfaction of "fixing people, making people function again, returning them to their pre-injury level and treating people of all ages."

Dr. Carty, the first woman African-American orthopaedist certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, and other women orthopaedists disprove the once-common concern that women couldn't be orthopaedic surgeons because they lack the necessary upper body strength. Dr. Carty was told early in her career that "it is more a matter of technique, not brute strength" that counts.

Peggy L. Naas, MD, encountered the same concern when she inquired about becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. Dr. Naas was an emergency room nurse when she decided to become an orthopaedic surgeon. The motivation was that the "orthopaedic residents could come into the emergency room and do something," she said. "They could actually fix patients."

She's now a general orthopaedic surgeon in a multispecialty group practice in Bloomington, Minn., and the mother of two children.

Dr. Ireland's ambition to be a doctor stems from an active life in athletics, multiple injuries and several surgeries. She wanted to "do something physically active in medicine" and was influenced by another orthopaedic surgeon, Jacqueline Perry, MD.

The women talk enthusiastically about the wide range of medical challenges. They treat disorders in shoulders, hips, hands and other anatomical areas and have special interests. Mary Ann Keenan, MD, chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Philadelphia is involved in neurologic rehabilitation and research, working with people who have had strokes, brain injury or post-polio syndrome. Amy L. Ladd, MD, assistant professor of hand surgery at Stanford University, is involved in diverse research projects on synthetic bone substitutes and synovial products.

J. Sybil Biermann, MD, an orthopaedic oncologist and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Michigan, says her specialty provides "a fascinating spectrum of disease" and "challenges of managing disease all over the body." She tells the story of a 25-year-old woman patient who was experiencing pain in the knee. The woman had a cancerous mass at the distal end of the femur. Dr. Biermann removed the mass and fitted the women with a prosthesis; two years later, the young woman is cancer-free.

They agree that the hours are long, but they also manage to have outside interests. Dr. Duck is a regular on the volleyball court and golf course; Dr. Carty is writing an autobiographical novel; Helen Horstmann, MD, is raising six daughters.

Dressed in her surgical gown, scrubbing up before surgery, Dr. Horstmann tells the viewer "you can do it all."

For further information about "Women in Orthopaedic Surgery," contact the RJOS office at (847) 698-1693, or fax (847) 823-0536.

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