In 1960, Dr. Crawford was the first African-American accepted at UTCOM
Although there are many outstanding orthopaedic surgeons, Alvin H. Crawford, MD, truly stands out from the crowd. He grew up as an African-American male in the segregated south, and with the support of his family, went on to pursue an incredible career in pediatric orthopaedics. Dr. Crawford has educated hundreds of orthopaedic surgeons, served as a thought leader, distinguished himself as an expert in neurofibromatosis and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, contributed to and advanced the field of pediatric orthopaedic surgery, improved diversity in a very homogeneous specialty, and positively touched the lives of many. Dr. Crawford will forever remain a giant in our field.
Dr. Johnson: What factored into your decision to attend the University of Tennessee medical school?
Dr. Crawford: In 1960, no African-American had ever been accepted into University of Tennessee College of Medicine (UTCOM). When community leaders in Memphis, Tenn., questioned the dean of UTCOM about the lack of diversity in its medical class, the response was that there were no qualified African-American applicants for consideration of admission at that time. The community leaders then sent UTCOM my college grades, Medical College Admission Test scores, and Stanford-Binet IQ scores.
I had already completed a quarter of my freshman year of medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville when I was accepted to UTCOM. Ultimately, I made the difficult decision to leave Meharry Medical College and become the first African-American in the south to attend and graduate from a southern medical school. I finished in the top of my class of 51 students and graduated in 1964.
Dr. Johnson: What was it like growing up in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s?
Dr. Crawford: I enjoyed growing up there. The segregated suburb supported and nurtured me and played a major role in my success today.
I was determined to obtain a great education and to become an accomplished musician by learning to play the clarinet. During sixth grade, I excelled at math and science, and I performed very well on the Stanford-Binet IQ test. My mentors and I remained focused on my education, and I never allowed myself to become distracted by the discrimination and extreme racial tensions that were prevalent in our nation at the time. As a result of my continued academic achievements, the teachers at our segregated school in Orange Mound relentlessly encouraged me to overcome any obstacles and continue to succeed by focusing on the task at hand.
Dr. Johnson: You have received numerous awards over your illustrious 40-plus-year career as an orthopaedic surgeon. Which awards have been most meaningful to you?
Dr. Crawford: I was proud to receive honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Ioannina in Greece in 2015 and various lifetime achievement awards from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Morehouse Medical College (2008), the Hall of Fame of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (2008), the mayor of Cincinnati (2013), the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (2014), Scoliosis Research Society (2014) (I was the first African-American president, in 2001), and UTCOM in 2017. I was also proud to receive an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Cincinnati.
Dr. Johnson: In 2018, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) established four learning communities that were named after UTHSC college of medicine distinguished alumni. What were your initial thoughts after discovering that one of those learning communities was going to be named after you?
Dr. Crawford: I was excited and honored to have my alma mater name one of their houses after me. Each class of students that enters the UTHSC college of medicine will learn about my contributions to pediatric orthopaedic surgery. The college of medicine wants the new program to focus on mentoring, professionalism, opportunity, wellness, excellence, and research.
Dr. Johnson: You are a retired captain from the U.S. Navy (active duty Navy 1964–1975 and Navy reserves 1976–1991). What role has the military played in your successful career?
Dr. Crawford: The Navy allowed me to focus on honing my surgical and leadership skills and train at a top-notch orthopaedic surgical residency (Boston Naval Hospital/Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program) in a supportive training environment, and it afforded me the opportunity to attend prestigious postgraduate fellowships at Harvard University and the Alfred I. DuPont Institute for Pediatric Orthopaedics, as well as the Otto E. Aufranc Fellowship in Adult Reconstructive Surgery. After completing my active military obligation, I developed the first pediatric orthopaedic and scoliosis surgery clinic in the U.S. military, before eventually joining the orthopaedic surgery staff of the University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1977 as the director of orthopaedic surgery.
Dr. Johnson: How has your family been instrumental in your life and career success?
Dr. Crawford: My family means everything to me, and they have played a pivotal role in my success. They have encouraged me to persevere, remain resilient, and strive for excellence.
For example, I wanted to become an accomplished musician while attending college at Tennessee State University. For the first two years, I majored in music, with the goal of becoming a renowned clarinetist. My brother Stan, a successful football player, who was two years older, encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. I took his advice during my junior year of college and began to fulfill my premedical prerequisite requirements.
My mother, who was a nurse, would later orchestrate my medical school application to UTCOM (with the help of the surgeon she worked with, who happened to be the president of the Memphis chapter of the NAACP). I became the first African-American student to integrate at a southern medical school.
And My wife, Alva, who I’ve been married to for more than 60 years, has not only been my life partner, but also my biggest supporter of every step of my career.
Dr. Johnson: Clearly, Dr. Crawford has left behind an incredible legacy. He has taught hundreds of orthopaedic surgeons, contributed to and advanced the field of pediatric orthopaedic surgery, improved diversity in a very homogeneous specialty, and positively touched the lives of many. You, Dr. Crawford, will forever remain a giant in our field.
Wayne A. Johnson, MD, is a general orthopaedic surgeon with subspecialty interest in sports medicine. He is the incoming secretary of the AAOS Board of Councilors 2019–2020 and currently serves on the AAOS Now Editorial Board.
Julie Balch Samora, MD, PhD, MPH, is a pediatric hand surgeon and director of orthopaedic quality improvement at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Charting an impressive career
Alvin H. Crawford, MD, graduated cum laude with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and music from Tennessee State University in 1960. In 1964, he became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine (UTCOM). He began his residency at Boston (Chelsea) Naval Hospital and completed training at the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program. His postgraduate fellowships included the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation Carl-Berg International Fellowship; Otto E. Aufranc Fellowship in Adult Reconstructive Surgery; pediatric orthopaedics at Children’s Hospital, Boston; the Alfred I. DuPont Institute, Wilmington, Del.; and the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) Asian Traveling Fellowship.
Dr. Crawford also attended the postgraduate Program for Clinical Chiefs of Services at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and received a Physician Leadership and Management Certificate from Xavier University.
In 1977, Dr. Crawford became director of orthopaedic surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where he remained for 29 years. During that time, he clearly made a tremendous impact on the Cincinnati community. Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed May 8, 2013, “Dr. Alvin Crawford Day” in Cincinnati. Dr. Crawford received the Daniel Drake Award from the University of Cincinnati, its highest academic award. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Medicine from Closing the Health Gap in Cincinnati.
In 2014, the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce presented Dr. Crawford with the Great Living Cincinnati Award for his medical and civic contributions. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award as a Health Care Hero from the Cincinnati Business Courier in February 2015. He was the honors day commencement speaker for the UTCOM class of 2016. He was cited as one of the Top 10 Educators (the only surgeon) in the first 100 years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, as well as one of the country’s best doctors yearly since 1996. In 2018, he was presented an honorary doctorate of science by the University of Cincinnati for his contributions to medical science. He received the Founder’s Award from the Cincinnati Pediatric Society, he was awarded endowed chairs in pediatric orthopaedics and spinal surgery, and the spine center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was dedicated in his name.
Dr. Crawford is also a distinguished scholar and educator. He has authored hundreds of books, book chapters, and articles, as well as given numerous national and international presentations and keynote addresses. He has completed multiple visiting professorships, lectured and/or performed surgery in 43 countries, and trained 57 international fellows in pediatric orthopaedics and spine surgery. Dr. Crawford is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery and neurofibromatosis. His teaching module in pediatric orthopaedics includes a 1,000-slide and syllabus packet that is widely used throughout residency programs in the United States and in 33 countries around the world. In 1982, he was received in Jordan by his Royal Highness King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom and acknowledged for his care of Jordanian patients and training of pediatric orthopaedic fellows.
Highlights of Dr. Crawford’s many accolades include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the SRS, Distinguished Achievement Award from the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA), Pioneer Award from National Medical Fellowships, Kappa Alpha Psi Medical Achievement Award, Founders Day Award and Wall of Fame at Tennessee State University, POSNA Pioneer Award for Legg-Calve-Perthes Research Study, and the AAOS Diversity Award. He was given the Navy Commendation Medal for refining the first pediatric orthopaedic and scoliosis clinic at the San Diego Naval Hospital. He received the 2009 Candle in the Dark Award from Morehouse College for his contributions in the field of medicine. Dr. Crawford was admitted to the 2008 Hall of Fame of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and received the esteemed International Trumpet Award in 2009, heralding the accomplishment of an African-American who has inspired others.
In 2015, Dr. Crawford was awarded an honorary doctorate of science, the Honoris Causa’s Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, from the University of Ioannina in Greece. He was named a Cobb fellow of the W. Montague Cobb/National Medical Association Health Institute in 2015. In 2017, he was the speaker at UTCOM’s White Coat Ceremony and was presented the Distinguished Ambassador Medals, among the highest honors for service and contributions. Introductory Alvin H. and Alva J. Crawford Scholarships were presented to five incoming medical students from underrepresented minority populations who were academically strong and in financial need. In 2018, UTCOM named one of its four learning communities Crawford House in his honor.
Dr. Crawford has served on the editorial boards of Orthopaedics Today, Journal of Spinal Deformity, The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, and Journal of Children’s Orthopaedics. He also has served in multiple leadership roles and as chair of several committees. He has served on the AAOS Board of Directors, as president of the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, and as the first African-American president of the SRS.
Dr. Crawford’s nonmedical activities include serving as retired corporate director of the Ohio National Financial Services and member of the AAOS Diversity Advisory Board, Foundation Board of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Diversity Committee, and the American Association of Code Enforcement group of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. He is director of Tennis for Charity, a life member of the NAACP, and a retired captain of the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. Currently a lead clarinetist in the Queen City Concert Band and the University of Cincinnati Summer Concert Band and Undercover Big Band, Dr. Crawford is also a tennis enthusiast. He has been married to Alva Jean for more than 60 years, is father to Alvin (Charlotte) and Carole, and is proud grandfather to Mia, Elle, and Uma.