Published 7/1/2018
Carrie Kollias, MD, FRCSC

A Fresh Look at Culture Could Increase Female and Underrepresented Minority Orthopaedist

The recent article “The Pregnant Orthopaedic Surgeon: Risks and Precautions” rightly addresses that pregnancy is not an insurmountable obstacle for women choosing a career in orthopaedics. I am a practicing orthopaedic surgeon and mother of two children, and pregnancy did not factor into my career choice in my mid-20s. After reading this article, I am curious to know how many surgeons have used pregnancy to justify the lack of gender diversity within orthopaedics. Such a superficial explanation, however, keeps us from looking in the mirror and critically evaluating ourselves and our specialty.

Some orthopaedic surgeons may recoil from the latest initiatives to attract a diversity of recruits to the profession. Why should the status quo change? Isn’t our specialty OK?

The answer is no, because our patients don’t look like we do, and neither do medical school classes.

Currently, only 6.1 percent of practicing orthopaedic surgeons are women, and 4.8 percent are underrepresented minorities. Unfortunately, orthopaedics is still the least diverse specialty—by a notable margin. At present, more than half of all medical student graduates are women. Where does that leave orthopaedics in attracting the most capable future surgeons who will serve patients and grow our specialty? Is it possible that we are selling ourselves and our patients short? Could our lack of diversity be stifling creative solutions to the challenges facing our profession and patients?

How can we attract females and underrepresented minorities in orthopaedics? I suggest through the same phenomenon that is required for maintaining health and excellence for all orthopaedic surgeons: culture. I am talking about a development culture that builds up those around us, works as a team, prizes inclusivity, and fosters creativity and innovation. This culture also facilitates personal well-being and care for colleagues, both male and female. In an era when burnout is an epidemic for half of orthopaedic surgeons, we need to rethink how we organize our lives and practices. Collaboration to an authentic level may not come easily to many of us; after all, competitiveness is what got us into this specialty.

What if we committed to be developers of people (minorities, women, men) in our daily lives? Looking back, the reason I went into orthopaedics is because some forward-thinking men invested in me. Their kindness and professionalism were notable and gave me the ability to imagine myself serving patients in this role. As orthopaedic surgeons, we need to turn on our radar and begin to recognize the potential of those around us, embracing their gender and ethnicity, with the understanding that we are stronger as a specialty when all viewpoints are represented. After all, the well-being of our profession and patients is depending on us.

Editor’s note: The following letter is in response to the article “The Pregnant Orthopaedic Surgeon: Risks and Precautions,” which was published in the February 2018 issue of AAOS Now. Letters to the editor are encouraged; please send correspondence to aaoscomm@aaos.org.

Carrie Kollias, MD, FRCSC, is an orthopaedic surgeon from Alberta, Canada, who specializes in pediatric orthopaedics and adult limb deformity reconstruction. She is also active in healthcare advocacy.