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  • Mariana Bouchan

Bridging Barriers: Women in Orthopedics

Orthopedics is one of many captivating surgical specialties, focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating musculoskeletal system diseases and injuries. It is no surprise that there is a long trajectory toward becoming an orthopedic surgeon: 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of medical school, and at least 5 years of residency. While advancements have been made in regards to gender equality in the field of medicine, with women comprising over half of the medical students in the United States, orthopedic surgery remains a significant outlier. Orthopedics is one of the most popular yet least diverse medical subfields and has struggled to obtain adequate female representation. This specialty has the lowest representation of female providers, which highlights an alarming rate of marginalization. Despite ongoing efforts to improve gender diversity, a recent study predicts that orthopedic surgery will take 217 years to achieve gender parity, matching the 36.3% of practicing female physicians in the U.S. 


Evaluating the progress towards more equitable representation in medicine is critical, especially for providing culturally competent care to patients. Ensuring that there are enough female orthopedic care providers is necessary for improved patient care, meeting diverse healthcare needs, and fostering inclusive work environments. A recent study examined the progress made in the representation of women in orthopedic surgery over the past 15 years. Using data from the Electronic Residency Application Service from 2007 to 2022, researchers found a near-doubling in the percentage of female medical students applying to orthopedic surgery residency, from 11.8% in 2007 to 23.0% in 2022. Although annual decreases in female applicants are observed, the overall trend is exciting, suggesting a positive shift in gender diversity within orthopedics. Current research from 2023 emphasizes the positive impact that initiatives and programs aimed at promoting gender diversity have. For instance, organizations such as the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society, the Perry Initiative, and Nth Dimensions have increased interest, exposure, and mentorship to women interested in orthopedics. Summer internship programs in regards to orthopedics have also been particularly helpful towards fostering a more diverse environment.

Continued efforts are crucial in maintaining this positive trend towards gender diversity. Gender diversity not only enhances patient care and satisfaction but also improves the diversity and efficiency of healthcare teams. At Duke, Duke Orthopaedic spine surgeon Dr. Melissa Erickson has significantly addressed the gender disparity in orthopedic surgery. With a focus on increasing female representation, she has hosted the Perry Initiative’s Outreach Program at Duke for several years. This program introduces women in medical and high school to Orthopaedic Surgery through hands-on experiences. As we celebrate the progress made in the field, we must remain committed to breaking barriers and fostering an inclusive environment, encouraging more women to apply and excel in orthopedic surgery.


Reviewed By: Meghna Katyal

Designed By: Eugene Cho


Citations:

  1. Person, & Wursta, M. R. (2023, September 6). Study: Women remain underrepresented as Fellowship Program Directors in orthopedic surgery. Healio. https://www.healio.com/news/orthopedics/20230906/study-women-remain-underrepresented-as-fellowship-program-directors-in-orthopedic-surgery#:~:text=Results%20showed%20women%20are%20underrepresented,elbow%2C%20and%20adult%20reconstruction%20subspecialties.

  2. Harbold, D., Dearolf, L., Buckley, J., & Lattanza, L. (2021). The Perry Initiative's Impact on Gender Diversity Within Orthopedic Education. Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine, 14(6), 429–433. https://doi.org/10.

  3. The perry initiative: A game changer. The Perry Initiative: A Game Changer | Duke Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. (2022, May 13). https://ortho.duke.edu/blog/perry-initiative-game-changer  


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