From the classroom to the board room: Rothman Orthopaedics' DEI initiatives to diversify the field

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The disparity between men and women in orthopedics remains stark; however, Philadelphia-based Rothman Orthopaedic Institute has formed initiatives to address it. 

Alex Vaccaro, MD, PhD, president of Rothman, shared the efforts the practice is involved in to diversify the specialty.

Note: This conversation was lightly edited for clarity.

Q: What are the DEI efforts at Rothman and your goals there?

AV: If you look at the orthopedic community, only about 7 percent of established orthopedic surgeons identify as female. There are gender disparities in academic centers and healthcare leadership, as well. That is unacceptable. In 2021, we started our own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program, and it is guided by an advisory committee of physician and administrative roles. This program focuses on developing an inclusive and equitable work environment that strengthens our organization. Our goals are to improve the employee experience through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.

We developed several initiatives both internally and externally to promote engagement and create intentional outreach efforts. For example, we developed a partnership with Nth Dimensions, which is one of the leading organizations that strengthens the pipeline for underrepresented groups in competitive specialties. They connect us with students who can come and rotate. Through our summer internship program with Nth Dimensions, we involved first-year medical students in our spine research group. The spine service meets with the students every Monday, and they are involved in observation, research and mentorship for eight weeks. So, if you get someone interested in orthopedics when they're in high school or college, and their goal is to get to college and do well in college, then we are creating support mechanisms to help students become doctors.

We also work with The Perry Initiative, an organization dedicated to advancing young women in the field of medicine and engineering. Last year, we gifted and trained local high school educators in the orthopedics curriculum, so they could bring these interactive, educational kits to their respective classrooms. In addition, we hosted two programs for women in high school and medical school, respectively. The intent of these programs is to create opportunities to gain earlier exposure to orthopedics through hands-on experiences. Several of our providers were involved.

If you look at Rothman's board, our board is formed through an elective process. But we hold a position available for a woman. If a woman does not get elected to the board, then a woman is automatically appointed to the board because we want to encourage diversity of thought. Unfortunately, orthopedics at present has such a low female representation. It's going to take years to get it up to the rest of medicine. If you look at the OB-GYN specialty, it is predominantly female, so they have a different challenge. They don't have enough male exposure. Orthopedics is the exact opposite. It's mostly males, and we need to get more women involved and heard.

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