June 2004 Bulletin

Diversity Committee attracts attention at SNMA

AAOS members provide diverse introduction to orthopaedics

By Ramon L. Jimenez, MD

Bridging the diversity gap in the medical profession, and particularly in orthopaedics, is essential for many reasons. A more diverse physician workforce benefits every aspect of health care in this country. It helps tomorrow’s doctors acquire the cultural competence they need to treat our increasingly diverse society; it provides underserved populations with greater access to physicians who share their ethnic heritage; and it encourages more researchers to seek solutions to racial disparities in health care.

As part of the AAOS efforts to attract a diverse group of medical students to the field of orthopaedics, members of the Diversity Committee and two orthopaedic residents recently attended the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Conference in New Orleans. The SNMA is an organization of medical and undergraduate pre-medical students of primarily African-American ethnicity; about 1,200 students gave up part of their Easter break to attend the conference. This was the third year that the AAOS had a recruitment booth at the conference.

The AAOS contingent included orthopaedic surgeons Ronald W. Lindsey, MD; Booker Washington, MD; Michele M. Zembo, MD; Darryl W. Peterson, MD; and myself, as well as AAOS candidate members Joseph Boucree Jr., MD, and Bonnie Simpson, MD; orthopaedic residents Leticia Bradford, MD, and Michael Harris, MD; and AAOS marketing department staff members Lewis Jenkins and Tricia Arnold.

Diversity Committee Chairman Ramon L. Jimenez, MD (right), debunks myths about orthopaedics for a medical student at the AAOS booth.

“A real live surgeon”

Working the AAOS booth, Dr. Lindsey, Dr. Washington and I met a number of bright, dedicated first-, second- and third-year medical students, who were eager to speak with “a real live orthopaedic surgeon,” and discover what we actually do. It was an opportunity to demystify the field and debunk some myths about orthopaedic surgery.

The Academy’s mentoring program brochures, recruitment video and sponsored reception (funded in part by an unrestricted educational grant from Zimmer) were well received by students. Verona Brewton, Zimmer’s director for minority affairs, arranged to have three orthopaedic bio-skills demonstration stations at the reception. Orthopaedic surgeons and residents were on hand to answer questions and demonstrate orthopaedic techniques such as tibial rodding and external fixation, using bone models.

By the end of the conference, we had collected 47 completed applications for the AAOS, Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society and J.R. Gladden Orthopaedic Society mentoring programs. In the weeks following the conference, staff received nine additional applications, bringing the total to 56 new recruits. We now have a total of 200 medical students in the AAOS mentoring program.

Musculoskeletal medicine

As a specialty, orthopaedic surgery faces several difficulties in attracting women and minorities. Although it is becoming easier to find “someone who looks like me” in medicine, female and minority medical students frequently are not exposed to either the need or the possibilities of musculoskeletal medicine. Many medical schools do not have a musculoskeletal medicine rotation, so students aren’t exposed to orthopaedics as an option early in their studies. Nor are students able to make the contacts that will be so valuable later in their careers—contacts that could lead to residency programs or research grants.

One of the most personally gratifying moments for me was a conversation with a young man who sought me out at the SNMA conference. “Dr. Jimenez,” he said, “I spoke with you last year, and just wanted to thank you for the encouragement you offered. Then, I wasn’t sure I could qualify for an orthopaedic residency match, and you convinced me to go for it. I wanted to let you know that I did—and I matched. Thank you for the confidence you had in me.”

We need more stories like that. Although the number of women and minorities applying to medical school is increasing, the most recent statistics indicate that actual numbers entering medical school are declining. For example, in the 2003-2004 school year, the number of African-American applicants to medical schools increased almost 5 percent (with the number of African-American women applicants increasing nearly 10 percent), but the number who entered medical school declined by 6 percent. Hispanic applicants increased by less than 2 percent to 2,483, while the number who entered medical school declined by almost 4 percent to 1,089.

Mentoring programs like those sponsored by the AAOS, Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society and J.R. Gladden Orthopaedic Society can help reverse this trend. The medical students we met were definitely interested and intent on achieving their goals. Mentoring and diversity programs can help more gifted women and minority medical students make these goals a reality.

Ramon L. Jimenez is chairman of the AAOS Diversity Committee. He can be reached at ramon@jimenez.net

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