Why Dr. Deeptee Jain deems herself an orthopedics 'unicorn'

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In May, orthopedic and spine surgeon Deeptee Jain, MD, joined The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches (Fla.). As a woman in orthopedics, Dr. Jain faces one of the largest gender disparities in healthcare as well as a 20 percent pay gap. She is one of approximately 50 women in the entire field. 

While Dr. Jain specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery and research, her expertise and accomplishments reach far outside the operating room. 

She is a member of the North American Spine Society, the Lumbar Spine Research Society and the Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery. She is also a reviewer for the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery and a contributor to Forbes. She was named to SpineLine's 20 Under 40, which highlights spine physicians younger than 40 who are making an impact through their accomplishments.

She has also worked with U.S. representatives to develop policies that address accessibility and structural inefficiencies in healthcare.

Dr. Jain spoke with Becker's about her inspiration for joining the orthopedic and spine specialty, the lack of diversity in the field and her patient advocacy work.  

Question: The field of orthopedics is known for its lack of diversity and large gender pay gap. What has your experience been like as a woman in the field? 

Dr. Deeptee Jain: There are definitely challenges along the way, but I try not to worry too much about that. Women orthopedic surgeons are rare; women spine surgeons are even more rare. I estimate that approximately 1 percent of spine surgeons are women. As women orthopedic surgeons, we are unicorns, and I choose to shout my unicorn status from the rooftops. Women orthopedic surgeons are uniquely positioned to have a tremendous impact in the field. We

bring an extremely valuable and underrepresented perspective to patient care. After all, women make about 80 percent of healthcare decisions. The field of orthopedics needs more women; it is a must if we want to continue to provide the best care to our patients.

Q: What are the largest challenges in attracting more women to the orthopedic industry? 

DJ: I hear from many women considering orthopedic surgery that they have concerns about their abilities to juggle family life with work life. This is a consideration that applies to both women and men. Ultimately, a career in orthopedic surgery is similar to many other careers where women (and men) can choose to build the kind of career they want. Life is a series of choices. It is hard to spend four hours a day on the golf course every day, have a busy surgical practice and attend your child's ballet recital, so it just depends on each individual's goals and prioritizing time to match those goals.

Q: What inspired you to join the field?  

DJ: During my training, I would see patients who had suffered from chronic back or neck pain for years and had avoided treatment due to the fear that they would need to undergo surgery. As a result of this delay in care, they often struggled to perform activities of daily living and became more socially isolated. However, even after minor interventions, their functional improvement was dramatic, and they always mentioned that they wished they had not delayed their care and missed out on so much of their lives. From there on, I made it my goal to “demystify” spine care and educate patients that not every spine condition requires surgery and encourage them to seek care sooner so that they can get back to enjoying their lives.

Q: What is your favorite procedure to perform? 

DJ: Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Not only is it a sleek, muscle-sparing, relatively short procedure, but patients also recover quickly and have reliably improved outcomes.

Q: What initiatives are you working on with the North American Spine Society? 

DJ: I work with the patient engagement committee as part of the advocacy council. It is so important that we as physicians have not just a voice but a loud voice in Washington. Our legislators make policies that affect every single person in this country, and oftentimes the people making these decisions have never taken care of a patient. Therefore, it is so important that we educate our lawmakers on real issues affecting our ability to care for our patients.

Q: What other trends in the field are you keeping an eye on right now? 

DJ: I have been paying close attention to new medical devices in the orthopedic and spine space broadly across the spectrum. From new interbodies to robotics, from small companies to larger companies. I think we, as surgeons, have a fundamental role in the development of new products to advance the field, and it is up to us to critically evaluate new devices.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add or elaborate on?

DJ: One of the most attractive opportunities about joining The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches was their partnership with HOPCo and their combined focus on meaningful, value-based care programs that have proven to work well. Many patients with spinal conditions are often undertreated or overtreated, which can contribute significantly to overall healthcare costs in addition to suboptimal clinical outcomes. Over the last 15 years, HOPCo has developed evidence-based protocols that focus on the most appropriate treatments based on the individual patient. These protocols, combined with the additional analytics and operational infrastructure that HOPCo provides, will allow The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches to become value-based care leaders in our region.

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