AAOS pays tribute to a "true visionary"
"Did what he felt was fair"
By Carolyn Rogers
More than four decades ago, Wayne O. Southwick, MD, quietly embarked upon a mission to almost single-handedly confront the disparity in ethnic and gender representation in orthopaedic surgery. Since that time, Dr. Southwick has consistently demonstrated his commitment to equal opportunity through his actions, not just his words. His years of courage and perseverance were recognized Feb. 5, 2003 when received the first annual AAOS Diversity Award during the Opening Ceremonies of the Academys 70th Annual Meeting in New Orleans. He was presented with the award by AAOS president Vernon T. Tolo, MD.
The Diversity Award was proposed by the AAOS Diversity Committee and approved by the AAOS Board of Directors last spring as a way to recognize individuals who have significantly contributed to the advancement of diversity in orthopaedics through recruiting, mentoring, leadership and treatment of diverse populations.
Unparalleled record of diversity
Dr. Southwick began to build a legacy of diversification among his faculty and resident trainees after becoming chief of the orthopaedic surgery section at Yale University in 1958. Even to this day, his record is unparalleled among the many major orthopaedic surgery academic programs in the United States.
"AAOS Second Vice President Robert Bucholz, MD, who trained under Dr. Southwick at Yale and nominated him for the award, describes Dr. Southwick as "a modest, self-effacing man who is ahead of his time."
"Dr. Southwick has demonstrated over the last 40 years through action, not words, his commitment to reducing the obstacles to qualified minorities and women who wish to be orthopaedic surgeons," Dr. Bucholz adds. "I can think of no individual more deserving of this award."
"Did what he felt was fair"
From the 1960s onward, Dr. Southwick created a program that encouraged applications from qualified minority physicians, says Terry R. Light, MD, president of the Academic Orthopaedic Society and former orthopaedic resident at Yale.
"Dr. Southwick never saw himself as a champion of civil rights nor as one who was trying to do good," Dr. Light says. "He simply and honestly did what he felt was fair."
Of greater importance, Dr. Light adds, "Once minority and women residents were accepted into the program, Wayne went out of his way to make sure all felt welcome and comfortable and completely integrated into the fabric of the program. As opportunities for faculty appointments came along, a number of minority physicians were hired as faculty members. This created a climate where others felt welcome to apply and found opportunities to succeed. Wayne was an exemplary mentor."
Extolling a great mentor
Ronald W. Lindsey, MD, an African-American orthopaedic surgeon who trained under Dr. Southwick, agrees. "All of us at Yale who were fortunate to train or develop academic careers under Dr. Southwicks tutelage quickly realized that the physician diversity in our program was not an impediment but, to the contrary, became our strength," he says.
As a successful orthopaedic surgeon from an underrepresented ethnic group, Dr. Lindsey says he can personally attest to the impact of Dr. Southwicks dedication and courage in upholding the ideals of professional diversity for the last 45 years.
"Due to his virtuous perseverance," Dr. Lindsey says, "Wayne Southwicks influence on our society extends well beyond his initial humble intentions. I am forever grateful to him, my family is grateful, the female minority student from a lower socioeconomic background who can realistically aspire to a career in orthopaedics surgery is grateful, and our Academy should also be grateful."
Trained first African-American female orthopaedist
Claudia Thomas, MDthe first African-American female orthopaedic surgeon in the United Statesis another of Dr. Southwicks greatest admirers.
Dr. Thomas first met Dr. Southwick in the mid-1970s as a fourth-year medical student visiting Yale to interview for her residency training. Recalling her first meeting with Dr. Southwick, Dr. Thomas says, "His expressive facial creases communicated kindness and genuine caring. This brilliant, well-published gentleman proved to be unassuming and personable. He was most interested in my character, compassion and spirituality."
As she soon discovered, the Yale program had a diversity that just didnt exist elsewhere. Following her interview with Dr. Southwick, Dr. Thomas recalls being led on a tour by the programs African-American chief resident, Carlton A. West, MD, and being informed that another African-American man was in the program as welltwo years after Dr. West.
"I also remember Dr. West telling me that Dr. Augustus White had become the first African-American surgical resident at the Yale University School of Medicine when Dr. Southwickin the face of much opposition from the department of surgeryaccepted him to train as an orthopaedic surgeon in 1963."
Although Dr. Thomas would have been the first woman resident at any of the programs for which she interviewed, she says, "It was refreshing to learn that I would not be the first person of color to train in orthopaedics at Yale. Dr. Southwicks vision, compassion and commitment to diversity were responsible for me ranking Yale as my first choice for residency training."
Throughout her training, Dr. Thomas says Dr. Southwick was "like a father figure" for many in the program. "He was just as concerned about our well-being, our welfare and our families as he was about academics I cannot imagine any more deserving candidate for the Academys Diversity Award than Dr. Southwick," she adds.
Helping the underserved
Dr. Southwicks efforts toward equal opportunity in health care extend far beyond the recruitment of minorities and women to Yales orthopaedic residency program. Dr. Southwick has made repeated trips to Haiti, as well as Tunisia, to provide orthopaedic care to the underserved. Hes directed philanthropic resources to children with special needs, supported the African-American community in New Haven, Conn., and trained countless minority and non-minority residents on the importance of being sensitive to the needs of the underserved.
In recognition of Dr. Southwicks commitment to diversity in orthopaedic care, the Academy will donate $5,000 to [*to be determined*).
Many worthy nominees
"Happily, many other people could have been chosen for this award," says Augustus A. White, MD, current chair of the Diversity Committee. "Everyone on the award committee thoroughly enjoyed learning about the many Academy members who are involved in a wide variety of activities that support diversity so well. Both the quantity and the quality of nominees was really a thrill."
Dr. Southwick was chosen to receive the award because "he really exemplified the principles and ideals of diversity," Dr. White explains. "He was committed to diversity in orthopaedics long before it was a widely held idealhe was doing it based on his own ideals and his own momentum."
Like most pioneers, Dr. Southwick encountered plenty of resistance along the way.
"Thats why its gratifying to see him being honored this way," says Dr. White. "Im sure he burned up some political capital at the time. Its nice to see some sense of justice for his courage during those times."