The Academy's new Diversity Committee has begun its mission to "significantly improve female and minority access to the orthopaedic profession" by formulating an ambitious three-year action plan.
Augustus White III, MD, committee chair, stated that "female and minority medical students are the focus of the action plan. The committee will develop ways to better inform these medical students about opportunities in orthopaedics. It also will set-up a mentoring program to try to change some of the misperceptions that these medical students have about orthopaedics while helping them overcome some of the unique challenges they may face in getting into our specialty."
Another focus of the Diversity Committee's activities is orthopaedic residency program chairs. "Orthopaedic chairs should have more information on the public health implications of having low numbers of female and minority orthopaedists," Dr. White said. "For example, studies show that minority physicians are more likely than other physicians to care for minority populations. Since there is a relatively low number of minority physicians, minority communities tend to be underserved compared to other communities. This situation will continue until the number of minority physicians, including orthopaedists, increases."
To make orthopaedic residency program chairs more aware of this issue, the Diversity Committee is helping to plan a symposium at the Academic Orthopaedic Society meeting next spring. The Council of Musculoskeletal Specialty Societies and the American Orthopaedic Association also will participate.
The Diversity Committee was created by the Academy's Board of Directors earlier this year after it received a startling report on the low number of women and minority group members in orthopaedics. The report showed that in 1994, 1.9 percent of all orthopaedists were women, even though women made up 41 percent of all medical school graduates. The report also showed that African-Americans and Hispanics make up about 5 percent of orthopaedic residents even though about 12 percent of all medical school graduates were members of minority groups.
To reinforce its commitment to addressing diversity issues, the Academy also recently joined Health Professionals for Diversity, which is a coalition of medical organizations that are interested in increasing minority participation in the medical profession. This coalition is sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Clarence Shields, MD, a committee member, said that "one of the biggest problems orthopaedics faces in recruiting minority medical students is the lack of minority role models."
Another committee member, Holly Duck, MD, added that "female medical students tend to believe that orthopaedics is a male-dominated and male-oriented specialty where above-average physical strength is needed. They also fear being, perhaps, the only woman in an orthopaedic residency program. The feelings of isolation that this may cause discourages many female medical students from thinking about orthopaedics."
Both Dr. Shields and Dr. Duck agree that minority and female medical students also are feeling the same pressures as other medical students to go into primary care rather than orthopaedics and other surgical specialties.
One of the first projects the committee is initiating is the creation of a mentoring system for minority medical students who may be interested in orthopaedics. According to Dr. White "the committee would like to identify orthopaedists to share their experiences with and give advice to minority medical students in their local area. These include African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society is also developing a mentoring program for female medical students who may be interested in orthopaedics.
Practicing orthopaedists who are interested in being a mentor for minority medical students in their area should contact Anna Santillan in the Academy health policy department, (800) 346-2267, ext. 4330.
Practicing orthopaedic surgeons who are interested in being mentors for female medical students should contact Priscilla Majewski or Sandra Brahos at the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society at (847) 698-1693.