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A medical student receives hands-on instruction in using orthopaedic surgical tools at the SNMA conference.

AAOS Now

Published 6/1/2009
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Jennie McKee

Recruiting minority medical students to orthopaedics

SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference connects students, role models

The Academy’s commitment to making orthopaedics a more diverse specialty is never more visible than at the Student National Medical Association’s (SNMA) Annual Medical Education Conference.

The AAOS representatives—led by Richard J. Haynes, MD, chair of the Diversity Advisory Board—attended the 2009 SNMA conference in New Orleans to introduce pre-medical and medical students to orthopaedics, encourage them to participate in orthopaedic mentoring programs, and dispel discouraging myths about the specialty.

Connecting with attendees
Toni McLaurin, MD; Michele Zembo, MD;
and AAOS resident member Julius Oni, MD worked with Dr. Haynes to staff the Academy’s exhibit booth and distribute diversity-related materials, including brochures on mentoring programs offered by the AAOS and Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society.

“Recruiting attendees to participate in mentoring programs is key to our efforts at the SNMA conference,” says Dr. Haynes. “It’s exciting to talk to first- and second-year medical students who have limited exposure to orthopaedics.”

AAOS representatives counseled students on mentoring programs and referred them to orthopaedic department chairmen at various institutions to discuss a possible career in orthopaedics. Students were also encouraged to approach orthopaedic surgeons on their schools’ faculties for counseling.

“The enthusiasm of the great young medical students in attendance—not just for orthopaedics, but for medicine in general—is very impressive,” says Dr. Haynes.

According to Dr. Oni, currently a resident at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, one of the most common misconceptions involved the difficulty in matching with an orthopaedic residency program.

“Most of the students assumed they would have to be at the top of their class, with substantial orthopaedic research,” says Dr. Oni. They were surprised to learn that approximately 80 percent of U.S. senior medical students who apply to an orthopaedic residency program through the match are matched with one of their top three choices.

“Students also thought that orthopaedics only focuses on sports-related injuries and joint replacement surgeries,” he adds.

During the conference, 32 of the many attendees who visited the booth completed mentoring applications.

Reception elicits ‘spectacular response’
An evening reception was an important component of the Academy’s outreach efforts. For the second year in a row, AAOS President Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, was instrumental in securing funding for the event through his department.

“The AAOS has made increasing diversity in orthopaedics a priority; our department also feels that diversity is very important,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “We believe in culturally competent care, and saw this as an opportunity to support that initiative.”

“We are tremendously thankful to Dr. Zuckerman for stepping up and obtaining sponsorship for the reception,” says Dr. Haynes. “He deserves a great deal of praise for helping in the effort to recruit underrepresented minorities and women to orthopaedic surgery.”

A medical student receives hands-on instruction in using orthopaedic surgical tools at the SNMA conference.
Julius Oni, MD, right, shared his insights on pursuing the field of orthopaedics with medical student Akin Oyalowo.

“Dr. Zuckerman has been very supportive,” agrees Dr. McLaurin. “He has already committed to securing support for next year’s event.”

The reception gave 114 attendees the opportunity to network with each other as well as with local residents and surgeons. They also observed and took part in external fixation, total knee replacement, and intramedullary nailing bioskills demonstrations conducted by Stryker sales representatives and coordinated by Dr. McLaurin.

“The demonstrations went well—the students were very enthusiastic,” says Dr. McLaurin. “It was the first time many of the students were exposed to orthopaedics in this way, and they really enjoyed the hands-on aspect of it.”

“The students were excited about working with the equipment,” agrees Dr. Oni. “Even after the session ended, I saw some students still working at the demonstration tables.”

Three medical students who recently matched with orthopaedic residency programs—Tamara Huff, MD; Naseem Beauchman, MD; and Christopher Jones, MD—also addressed the students at the event.

Dr. Huff, who matched with the orthopaedic residency program at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, told the attendees not to let anyone discourage them from pursuing orthopaedics. She noted that the contacts and knowledge she has gained at AAOS outreach events have played a critical role in helping her navigate the process of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon.

“I first attended the SNMA conference as an undergraduate student,” she explains. “When I came back as a medical student, I visited the AAOS booth and connected with Elizabeth A. Ouellette, MD through the RJOS mentoring program.

“I also met Bonnie Simpson-Mason, MD, after one of the AAOS receptions,” she continues. “Dr. Simpson-Mason introduced me to Mary I. O’Connor, MD, who has mentored me ever since.”

By sharing their personal experiences with applying to and being matched with an orthopaedic residency program, Dr. Huff and the other speakers made a future in orthopaedics seem obtainable.

“They conveyed their excitement about training to be orthopaedic surgeons—they were very encouraging to the medical students,” says Dr. Haynes. “They urged attendees to be persistent and not be afraid to talk to orthopaedic faculty. They also reminded them that they can have many mentors—not just one.

“The response was spectacular,” he continues. “Since the reception, many of the students have contacted me to thank the AAOS and to ask questions about pursuing orthopaedics.”

Dr. Oni was glad to help demonstrate the Academy’s commitment to diversity.

“Diverse cultures, academic backgrounds, and ideas are essential to continuous growth and discovery,” he says. “I always appreciate any opportunity to speak to students, because when I was in their shoes, someone took the time to speak to me.”

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org