Growing up in the ghetto community of Orange Mound, near Memphis, Tenn., Alvin H. Crawford, MD, learned early that he wasn’t always considered equal to those around him.
When Richard F. Kyle, MD, presented the 2007 AAOS Diversity Award to him during the Ceremonial Meeting at the AAOS Annual Meeting in San Diego, Dr. Crawford’s years of work encouraging diversity among those who practice orthopaedics were vindicated.
“I rode in the back of the bus when I went into town, but we were so secluded that I didn’t have to go into town for a lot of things,” explained Dr. Crawford. “It was just a different environment. I guess I didn’t know any better—how bad off I was.”
His segregated surroundings didn’t stop him from seeking a quality education. In 1960, he earned his undergraduate degree at the school then known as Tennessee A&I University (now Tennessee State), but Dr. Crawford wasn’t satisfied with simply achieving a bachelor’s degree. He wanted to become a physician, but he remembers being advised that, although his grades were excellent and his work ethic applauded, he might be attempting to reach too far, because African-Americans didn’t get to be doctors.
Dr. Crawford persevered and went on to become the first African-American graduate of the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee. He performed fellowships at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital (clinical fellowship in orthopaedic surgery), New England Baptist Hospital (constructive surgery of the hip), and Children’s Hospital Medical Center (pediatric orthopaedics), then went on to the Alfred I. duPont Institute (pediatric orthopaedics) in Wilmington, Del. In 1972, he received his board certification in orthopaedic surgery, and since 1977, he has been an oral examiner for AAOS.
In supporting Dr. Crawford for the Diversity Award, Paul D. Sponseller, MD, wrote “I would like to give my highest recommendation to Alvin Crawford for the AAOS Diversity Award. He has built and sustained a teaching program in pediatric orthopaedics at the University of Cincinnati, which has made it one of the strongest divisions in orthopaedics. He has taken trainees from all branches of orthopaedics and all backgrounds.”
John P. Dormans, MD, chief of orthopaedic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, agreed. “Dr. Crawford has done a great deal to promote the values and benefits of diversity within the field of orthopaedic surgery,” he wrote. “[He] has worked tirelessly to train medical students, residents and especially, 31 fellows who have come from diverse and varied backgrounds. He has represented the diversity of our Academy during his 23 foreign visiting lectureships, and his participation in 24 other societies.”
“Being able to accept other people’s values, then relate and communicate. That’s what diversity is,” explained Dr. Crawford. “I see myself in everyone I train, and recently I’ve come to see them as training me. I’ve been learning for the last 20 years,” he laughed. “I still haven’t gotten there, but I’ve learned a lot from people who don’t necessarily look or think like me.”