UAMS Hosts Perry Initiative Workshop Promoting Women in Orthopaedics

2013 Perry Initiative High school students practice using drills on replica human bones during the Perry Initiative Outreach workshop.

2013 Perry Initiative Gaddy and Thomas Dana Gaddy, Ph.D., (left) and Ruth Thomas, M.D., organized the Perry Outreach Program workshops.

2013 Perry Initiative Students examine replica human bones during the workshop.

Oct. 31, 2013 | The sound of drills and saws vibrated throughout the halls of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute Oct. 12 as 35 female high school students repaired fractures, fixed ACL tears and inserted rods into replica human bones.

The young women were part of the Perry Outreach Program, designed by The Perry Initiative and hosted by UAMS. Participants were chosen from a pool of more than 100 essay entries.

With females making up only 7 percent of all practicing orthopaedic surgeons and doctor-level engineers in the United States, the San Francisco-based initiative holds workshops around the country to eventually raise that number.

Co-organizers of the workshop at UAMS Ruth Thomas, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the UAMS Center for Foot and Ankle Surgery and Dana Gaddy, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics, and orthopaedic surgery, are working to show young women in Arkansas that orthopaedics is an option for them.

“This is a national movement to increase women in engineering, medicine and orthopaedics,” Thomas said. “Our female medical school enrollment is below the national average and only 14 percent of orthopaedic residents are female, the lowest percentage of any residency program in medicine. We want to see those numbers change for the better.”

The UAMS workshop also hosted first- and second-year female medical students on Friday night to help them explore the possibility of orthopaedics in their future. Medical students during their training and education typically only have one week of exposure to orthopaedic surgery, which is hardly enough time to get a feel for what the career involves, Gaddy says.

“It is really critical to expose women medical students to the opportunities in orthopaedics early during their basic science training,” Gaddy said. “As for the high school students, without this workshop it is highly unlikely they would be given an opportunity to discover their talent and find enjoyment working with tools or plates and screws in the operating room themselves.”

During the workshop, students used surgical power tools to drive nails or attach external fixators to repair bone fractures, performed ACL ligament replacements, attached cages to straighten spines with scoliosis, and repaired fractures with casting materials. They worked on bone replicas made to reproduce the actual weights and densities of real human bones to demonstrate to students that women can physically do the work of an orthopaedic surgeon.

 “The Perry Initiative gives students tools and the training to use them,” Gaddy said. “To see the transformation of young women, who tentatively approach their first sawbones with concerned faces and drill in hand, turn to broad smiles and high fives once they’ve successfully hammered that nail into place is a real delight.”

Students heard presentations from UAMS’ Thomas, Gaddy, Theresa Wyrick, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and C.J. Vadala, M.D., chief resident of orthopaedic surgery. Kate McCarthy, M.D., spine surgeon at Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics and Amy Bucha from The Perry Initiative spoke about the practicalities of being a woman in orthopaedic surgery. Second-year medical students Kelly Allison and Jaclyn VanderSchilden spoke about academic preparation for medical school.

This is the third year for UAMS to host the program. In 2012, The Perry Initiative chose UAMS as the inaugural site to host the Medical School Outreach Program. The program’s success has enabled the program to expand to other sites including the University of California in Berkeley, Calif., the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis and New York University.

“We are hoping that beginning in the next two years we will see an increase in the number of our UAMS medical students applying for residency positions in orthopaedics,” Thomas said. “We are also hoping that in the next four years we can report that a large percentage of our high school participants will choose either engineering or medicine as their career path, and this will result in even larger numbers of female UAMS medical students and subsequently female orthopaedic surgeons.”

The workshops were sponsored by the UAMS College of Medicine, the Arkansas Biosciences Institute and Medtronic Inc., the world’s largest medical device company.

Jenni Buckley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware, and Lisa Lattanza, M.D., a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California at San Francisco, founded The Perry Initiative.

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