When Mark H. Gonzalez, MD, started out in surgery, he thought the key to success was “great hands.” Now, he says, “The more I do surgery, the more I think that ‘great hands’ is the farthest thing from making you successful. I think first you have to be honest and you have to make proper decisions for the right reasons.”
According to AAOS President John R. Tongue, MD, who presented the award, “Dr. Gonzalez embodies everything the Diversity Award stands for. As a minority himself, he had to overcome significant hurdles to become a physician, an orthopaedic surgeon, a professor, and now the chairman of orthopaedics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.”
Ramon L. Jimenez, MD, in nominating Dr. Gonzalez, cited a 25-year record of tirelessly promoting diversity and nurturing new talent to enrich the field of orthopaedics and benefit patients. Dr. Jimenez notes that Dr. Gonzalez teaches at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago (UIC), which graduates more physicians (300) than any other medical school in the country. More than 60 percent of minority physicians in Illinois and 70 percent of those in Chicago attended UIC. In 2008, 54 percent of graduates were women.
“Dr. Gonzalez has actively advanced the issues of diversity and culturally competent care by his own volition and initiative,” Dr. Jimenez wrote.
Dr. Gonzalez provides patient care at John H. Stroger, Jr, Hospital of Cook County, “essentially the only multidisciplinary hospital in Illinois that is open to patients who are either uninsured or under-insured,” Dr. Jimenez wrote.
“Dr. Gonzalez has an inherent compassion, awareness, and sensitivity for those patients who, like himself, are Hispanic. In addition, he can appreciate the barriers and obstacles that patients who are recent immigrants of different ethnicities may experience. Therefore, he easily gains the trust of minority and underserved patients. His tireless contributions to the patients at Cook County Hospital have made a tremendous impact in providing orthopaedic care to underserved populations,” continued Dr. Jimenez.
Anything is possible
Dr. Gonzalez, according to Dr. Jimenez, enables “minorities and women to see that, with a tremendous dedication to one’s field, anything is possible. He goes out of his way to help them and is always there with advice and support. He fully realizes that mentoring is key in order to make inroads into diversifying the orthopaedic workforce. He has made special efforts to attract and support women and minority students so that they can overcome the barriers and obstacles to becoming orthopaedic surgeons.”
Colleagues, students, and residents echo the words of praise. In the video tribute shown during the Ceremonial Meeting, Alfonso Mejia, MD, MPH, of UIC, says, “One of the things Mark believes strongly in is that diversity and excellence are everywhere.”
Sharon Walton, MD, a resident, says, “He is not afraid to vocalize the importance of having minorities and females in orthopaedics. Diversifying the field of orthopaedics can tend to be a touchy subject with some people, but Dr. Gonzalez is vocal and not afraid to voice his opinions about trying to diversify the field.”
“We’ve reached that critical mass where now the program almost self-perpetuates in terms of getting more diverse applicants, which is great,” says Emily Mayekar, MD, another resident.
“He probably takes care of the most diverse patient population in the city based on the fact that this hospital is a state-run facility with many minorities, along with Cook County Hospital, which has a number of minorities and people with varying citizenships,” says Benjamin Goldberg, MD, of UIC. “Dr. Gonzalez wants the department to somewhat resemble the way society looks.”
Farid Amirouche, PhD, director of Orthopaedic Research at UIC, says that the contributions made by Dr. Gonzalez extend beyond the hospital. “Somebody is special when that someone cares. And I think he is special because outside work, and outside of everything else we do, if you mention to Dr. Gonzalez a personal problem or personal issue, he will take it to heart. That means you not only have a colleague, a friend to work with, but you have really someone here to become your best friend.”
Dr. Gonzalez himself says that it only makes sense for medicine and orthopaedic surgery to embrace the full strata of society. “I didn’t attempt this (establishing a diverse residency program at UIC) from some global effort to improve the world. To me, it was a very practical thing. I believe it is important that the doctors would be treating patients who, in some ways, were like themselves. Additionally, it occurred to me that if diversity existed among the doctors, that diversity, for the residents, would be an education in itself.”
He says he has been more than rewarded for his efforts. “Orthopaedics is a great field. It’s an excellent field with excellent opportunities for everyone,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “I want everyone to know that we want representation from everyone. I love being a surgeon, and I love being an engineer.”
See a video on Dr. Gonzalez http://youtu.be/Q3Q6rfSpmLo
This article adapted from the AAOS Now Daily Edition, Friday, March 22, 2013.
Terry Stanton is the senior science writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org