Bonnie Simpson Mason, MD, is most deserving of this award,” wrote Ramon L. Jimenez, MD, in support of her nomination for the AAOS Diversity Award.
Were she to win, wrote Dr. Jimenez, “I would venture to say that more than 1,000 students, residents, and orthopaedic surgeons she has directly helped throughout the past 10 years will stand up and cheer.”
Dr. Simpson Mason’s colleagues did just that when she received the 2015 AAOS Diversity Award at the AAOS Annual Meeting. The Diversity Award recognizes Academy members who have distinguished themselves through their outstanding commitment to making orthopaedics more inclusive.
Dr. Simpson Mason was honored for her efforts to recruit and support women and minority medical students interested in pursuing a career in orthopaedics. Her nonprofit organization, Nth Dimensions Educational Solutions, Inc., has worked with the AAOS for more than a decade to develop and facilitate scholarship and internship programs for medical students from diverse backgrounds. Many of the young people who have participated in programs sponsored by Nth Dimensions credit those experiences as being the driving force behind their success in becoming orthopaedists.
Diversity champion and mentor
Dr. Simpson Mason attended the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and completed a general surgery internship at the University of California at Los Angeles, followed by an orthopaedic residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“It was not intimidating for me to go into orthopaedics, a predominantly male field, as I saw my mother—a construction engineer—do it every day,” she said. “If you can see someone like you being successful, then your aspirations become feasible.”
For about 5 years, Dr. Simpson Mason was in clinical practice at Grant Orthopaedic Bone and Joint Surgeons in Washington, D.C., and also served as the practice’s chief financial officer. When she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she retired from the surgical and clinical practice of orthopaedics and founded Nth Dimensions by drawing on her entrepreneurial and leadership skills.
The organization, noted Dr. Simpson Mason, “was born out of my desire to expose women and minorities to orthopaedic surgery as a profession.”
Since its founding, Nth Dimensions has continued to attract a growing number of female and minority medical students through its physician pipeline initiatives. The organization partners with AAOS to offer first-year medical students the opportunity to participate in 8-week clinical and research internships as part of the Orthopaedic Summer Internship (OSI) Program. After they complete a research project, the students present their study findings at a national scientific meeting.
“The goal of the OSI program is to provide three important elements that contribute to increasing students’ competitiveness for orthopaedic residency positions: early exposure to the field of orthopaedics, clinical and research experience, and ongoing mentoring and leadership development,” said Dr. Simpson Mason.
Approximately 175 students have been Nth Dimensions/AAOS Orthopaedic Summer Interns since the program’s inception. In Dr. Simpson Mason’s estimation, close to one-third of all African-American orthopaedic residents have participated in at least one of Nth Dimensions’ programs.
“As a direct result of her organization, Dr. Simpson Mason has fostered the careers of a small army of diverse physicians who will naturally strive toward a goal of providing culturally competent care,” wrote former Nth Dimensions participant Rishi Balkissoon, MD, MPH, chief resident in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Johns Hopkins.
Claudia Thomas, MD, the first African-American woman to become an orthopaedic surgeon and recipient of the 2008 AAOS Diversity Award, has been a mentor and role model of Dr. Simpson Mason.
“Dr. Simpson Mason has been a silent warrior in the effort to diversify the field of orthopaedic surgery, which has been historically predominated by Caucasian males,” wrote Dr. Thomas, in nominating Dr. Simpson Mason for the Diversity Award. “She has devoted infinite time and energy to changing the face of orthopaedics, not out of resentment of the specialty’s exclusivity, but because she loves the field so much.”
Fostering important partnerships
“This is undeniably a team effort,” noted Dr. Simpson Mason. She makes a point of collaborating with other organizations, including serving as the mentoring committee chair for the J. Robert Gladden Society, and working with the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society, American Association of Latino Orthopaedic Surgeons, and the National Medical Association. She credits Zimmer, Inc., with being its 10-year sponsor and the “life’s blood of Nth Dimensions’ ability to thrive.”
Just as importantly, Nth Dimensions would not have been successful in exposing thousands of female and minority medical students to the field of orthopaedics without the help of mentors across the country who volunteer as role models for the next generation of orthopaedic surgeons. Dr. Simpson Mason is grateful for the support of nearly 40 AAOS fellows who currently volunteer as preceptors in the OSI program.
Looking back at more than a decade of encouraging medical students of all backgrounds to pursue careers in orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Simpson Mason knows that providing mentoring opportunities for young people is what she is meant to do.
“Receiving the AAOS Diversity Award confirms for me that my role and purpose is to motivate young people to become orthopaedic surgeons,” she noted. “I would not have been able to do this if I was still in the operating room, which proves that we can be effective in developing the next generation of physician leaders both inside and outside of the operating room.”
Jennie McKee is a senior science writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
More about Dr. Simpson Mason
In addition to serving as executive director of Nth Dimensions, Dr. Simpson Mason also develops curricula and speaks nationally to women’s and physicians’ groups on topics such as diversity and the business of medicine. She also serves on various AAOS committees and boards and is a clinical assistant professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and an adjunct professor of graduate medical education at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.