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Medical student Violetta Gutierrez poses with her research poster after interning with Timothy S. Johnson, MD.

AAOS Now

Published 1/1/2010
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Jennie McKee

Taking mentoring to the “Nth” degree

Non-profit organization prepares women, minorities for orthopaedics

In recent decades, the U.S. population has become increasingly diverse, but the demographics of the orthopaedic surgeon workforce haven’t kept pace. Nth Dimensions Educational Solutions, a non-profit organization founded by Bonnie Simpson Mason, MD, in 2005, is helping to change that by introducing women and minority medical students to the world of orthopaedics through an innovative and structured developmental program.

Dr. Simpson Mason worked with Ms. Verona Brewton to develop the organization’s orthopaedic mentoring program, which is sponsored by an educational grant from Zimmer, Inc., in conjunction with Zimmer’s Minority Initiatives Program.

“We created the program to increase the number of women and ethnic minority students entering the orthopaedic workforce, which in turn will help reduce healthcare disparities and improve cultural competency among orthopaedic surgeons,” said Dr. Simpson Mason.

How the program works
After a competitive application and interview process, students who are accepted in the program are matched with experienced orthopaedic surgeon mentors.

“The mentors have been specifically selected not only as role models but also because of their achievements in teaching, mentoring, and conducting orthopaedic research,” explained Dr. Simpson Mason.

After their first year in medical school, students participate in an 8-week clinical and research internship with their mentors. At the end of the summer, the students present their research at a national scientific meeting.

“The program not only provides clinical exposure to orthopaedics, but also gives the students some research experience and a platform to present their research,” she said.

Students continue to receive support and guidance from their mentors throughout their school years. They are also encouraged to develop relationships with other orthopaedic surgeons from across the country during activities held at the AAOS Annual Meeting, the J. Robert Gladden Society, and the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS).

Opening doors
Medical students reap many rewards from participating in the program, according to Dr. Simpson Mason.

“They are very inspired by being in a clinical setting where someone is investing time and energy in them for the summer,” she said. “They see themselves in their mentor and realize that a career in orthopaedics is possible for them.

“They also have the opportunity to work with other colleagues in their mentor’s department, as well as with residents and other medical students,” she continued. “They receive on-the-job professional development that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Resident physician Rishi Balkissoon, MD, MPH, who entered the program in 2006 and was matched with Bryan E. Little, MD, agrees.

“I was able to work daily with Dr. Little in his clinic and operating room as well as with the rest of his team of residents, nurses, and administrators as a first-year medical student for nearly 2 months,” explained Dr. Balkissoon.

“My exposure to the field of orthopaedics,” he continued, “helped me I realized early in my training that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Having made that decision, I could identify the goals I needed to achieve.”

Ginger E. Holt, MD, who has participated in the program as a mentor, says the program gives medical students and mentors time to develop important bonds.

“Because you go in the operating room and do cases with the medical students day in and day out, you can build lasting relationships,” said Dr. Holt. “I think the students benefit greatly from visiting a program, seeing new areas of the country, and being exposed to surgeries, grand rounds, and other educational activities.”

In 2007, notes Dr. Holt, Nth Dimensions provided an educational grant to fund an investigational study on racial disparities in joint replacement that she conducted with orthopaedic resident Muyibat A. Adelani, MD, who was then a medical student.

Medical student Violetta Gutierrez poses with her research poster after interning with Timothy S. Johnson, MD.
Medical student Keisha French presents her research to Charles L. Nelson, MD, and MaCalus Hogan, MD.

“Having enough funding for a statistician to do this research was very important,” she said.

Another mentor, Melvyn Harrington, MD, is equally enthusiastic about the internship program.

“The students really get to see what it’s like to be an orthopaedic surgeon,” said Dr. Harrington. “The program gets students who might not know about our specialty interested in orthopaedic surgery.”

Dr. Balkissoon notes that participating in the program prepared him for a successful orthopaedic residency match—and provided a support system.

“I was in touch with Drs. Little and Simpson Mason, as well as other advisors, including residents, and attending physicians I identified through the Nth Dimensions program, to discuss my elective rotations, my application, my interviews, and my rank list for the match,” he said.

“I consider Dr. Little to be my mentor as well as my friend,” he said. “We keep in touch regularly by e-mail and phone. We were also able to get together at the last 2009 AAOS Annual Meeting.”

The sky is the limit
According to Dr. Mason, the program has become larger and more successful each year.

“The first year, 10 students participated in the program, and five of them declared orthopaedic surgery,” said Dr. Simpson Mason. “Two of the four who actually entered the match were able to match in orthopaedics.”

Of the 15 students who started the program in 2006 and went through the match in 2009, nine applied to orthopaedic surgery residency programs.

“More than half of our students declared orthopaedics as their specialty of interest, and six of those nine students matched in orthopaedic residency programs such as those offered by Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, so we were very happy about that,” said Dr. Simpson Mason.

The 2010 class will include 20 medical students, five of whom will be sponsored by the AAOS Diversity Advisory Board.

“In the future, we hope to continue working with the RJOS and the Gladden Society, as well as with the American Medical Student Organization, the Student National Medical Association, and other organizations to recruit medical students for our program,” said Dr. Simpson Mason.

Another measure of the program’s success is its ability to inspire medical students to mentor others. As a second-year medical student, Dr. Balkissoon became a mentor to first-year students and college students interested in medical school.

“I realized that simply sharing my experience with others, as Drs. Little and Simpson Mason did for me,” said Dr. Balkissoon, “can promote interest in orthopaedic surgery and encourage others to achieve academic and clinical excellence.

“Without the vision and actions of Dr. Simpson Mason and Ms. Brewton,” he said, “I am not sure I would have the opportunities I have today. I am grateful to them for helping to open doors for me and my fellow medical students.”

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

For more information
The deadline for first-year medical students to apply for the 2010 Orthopaedic Summer

Internship Program is Jan. 29, 2010. To learn more about Nth Dimensions Educational Solutions, visit www.nthdimensions.org