Experienced female orthopaedic surgeons who volunteer with the Perry Initiative, a nonprofit organization aimed at recruiting young women to orthopaedic surgery, do not mince words about the potential to succeed.
“If anyone tells you that orthopaedics is not a great profession for women, do not listen to them,” advises Mary I. O’Connor, MD, chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s really a fabulous surgical field with lots of opportunities.”
Shevaun Doyle, MD, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, echoes Dr. O’Connor’s sentiments.
“If you like people, science, and technology, orthopaedics is the field for you,” she says.
Drs. O’Connor and Doyle are two of the many female orthopaedists who contribute their time and expertise to the Perry Initiative, a program we established in 2009. Named for Jacquelin Perry, MD, DSc (Hon), one of the first ten women to be certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, the program helps introduce young women to orthopaedics and engineering, fields in which females are underrepresented.
Although the Perry Initiative was originally geared to high school students, it has now expanded its reach to first- and second-year medical students, offering practical learning opportunities to approximately 900 female students at high schools, colleges, and medical schools across the country every year.
By providing early access to experienced orthopaedists and orthopaedic residents, the Perry Initiative hopes to increase the number of women applying for and entering orthopaedic residency programs in the near future, while also building a pipeline of female high school students and undergraduate students interested in pursuing orthopaedics.
During one-day, hands-on workshops, young women learn from prominent orthopaedic surgeons at medical centers, universities, and high schools that host the program around the country. The nearly two dozen workshop modules give participants experience in using power tools and bone models to simulate orthopaedic surgical procedures. Participants also benefit from a unique curriculum that introduces them to implant design and other aspects of orthopaedics.
Workshops focus on many different areas; during the fracture repair session, fir example, students use sawbones models to create and repair fractures, using plates and screws. Students also perform simulated spinal fusion to correct scoliosis on an anatomic model and repair the supraspinatus tendon of the rotator cuff using a double row technique.
“The Perry Initiative is effective because it enables young women, many for the first time, to understand and believe that they can become orthopaedic surgeons,” says Dr. O’Connor. “Our participants see women who are successful orthopaedic surgeons and who also have families, and they realize that orthopaedics is a real option for them.”
Based on positive feedback from attending faculty and medical students who have volunteered at high school programs, the Perry Initiative recently extended its outreach model to medical students. Thus far, three pilot programs have been held at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark., the University of California San Francisco, in San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. More programs are scheduled for 2013.
Measuring the program’s influence
Over the past 3 years, the workshops have been highly effective at the high school level, as evidenced by the number of participants who choose premedicine and engineering undergraduate majors upon entering colleges and universities.
The results of a 1- to 3-year follow-up study of more than 200 high school outreach program participants underscore the success of the program. Among the findings are the following:
- 92 percent of participants responded that the program substantially (66 percent) or modestly (26 percent) increased their interest in pursuing a career in the sciences
- 90 percent substantially (41 percent) or modestly (49 percent) showed interest in orthopaedic surgery
- Nearly half of the students in the large cohort that has advanced to the postsecondary level are majoring in premedicine or related disciplines
- Others in the cohort are pursuing other medical fields, such as nursing and psychology
One high school student who participated in a workshop held in San Francisco shared that the workshop affected her in a profound way.
“I began to see the real-life applications of biology, physiology, and chemistry and was interested in seriously considering orthopaedics as a career,” she wrote.
Feedback from participants of the pilot medical student programs indicates that exposure to orthopaedic residents and faculty boosted their interest in pursuing a residency in orthopaedics, particularly among those who were undecided in their specialty interest.
According to one medical student, the workshop opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in orthopaedics.
“I had never considered orthopaedics until this program, and now it is my number one choice,” she wrote.
How to get involved
The Perry Initiative is grateful for the continuing financial and volunteer support from the orthopaedic surgery community-at-large, which makes it possible to provide free programming to participants.
Those interested in supporting the Perry Initiative can make a donation through the partnership with the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation to help ensure that these programs continue to inspire the next generation of women orthopaedic surgeons.
“As President Kennedy said, ‘To those whom much is given, much is expected,’’’ said Dr. O’Connor. “We have been given much and must make our profession welcoming to all of the best and the brightest students.”
To learn more about the Perry Initiative, visit the program online at www.perryinitiative.org
For more on Dr. Perry, see Orthopaedic Trailblazer: Jacquelin Perry, MD, DSc
Dr. Lattanza, cofounder and president of the Perry Initiative, serves as chief of hand and upper extremity surgery and elbow reconstructive surgery in the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, where she is also program director of the hand and upper extremity fellowship. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenni Buckley, PhD, is the executive director of the Perry Initiative. She is also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware, where she teaches engineering design and biomechanics, and is the chief scientific officer of the Taylor Collaboration, a biomechanical testing firm in San Francisco. She can be reached at email@example.com