Dr. Bonnie Mason strives for diversity, inclusion in orthopedics with new role at Nth Dimensions

Written by Alan Condon | February 07, 2020 | Print  |

Bonnie Mason, MD, founder and former executive director of nonprofit company Nth Dimensions, was recently appointed senior advisor to the company's board of directors.

After completing her residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., in 2005, Dr. Mason was forced to retire early from orthopedic surgery after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Since then, she has devoted her career to addressing the lack of female minority physicians in orthopedics and embarked on a mission of education in diversity and physician leadership.

Here, Dr. Mason discusses her new role at Nth Dimensions and offers advice for female medical students who wish to pursue a career in orthopedics.

Note: Responses are lightly edited for style and content.

Question: Congratulations on Nth Dimensions' 15-year anniversary. What do you hope to achieve in the next 15 years? 

Dr. Bonnie Mason: We truly appreciate the acknowledgment of the collective efforts of all our stakeholders. These physician volunteers, donors, academic partners, associations and industry supporters have worked to infuse our students with the information, resources and network needed to achieve excellence in orthopedic surgery. 

During the next 15 years, we look to Letitia Bradford, MD, Nth Dimensions' new executive director, and the team to move the needle forward for the organization. We hope to continue to partner with stakeholders in every medical/surgical specialty and keep developing board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals from all backgrounds. If we had our way, we would expand our partnerships with academic programs nationwide to provide diversity and inclusion programming, support and scholarly works. 

The partnerships would model our existing partnerships, including the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Stanford (Calif.) University, Washington University in St. Louis, OrthoCarolina in Charlotte, N.C., Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, all of which host Nth Dimensions summer interns and host single or multispecialty bioskills workshops. These programs raise awareness and provide hands-on, immersive experiences for students in the least diverse medical specialties such as orthopedic surgery, radiology, dermatology, ophthalmology and also physical therapy. 

To date, we have more than 100 Nth Scholars who matriculated through our pipeline curriculum, who are now either orthopedic surgery residents or board-certified orthopedic surgeons. We would like to see this number triple with Nth Scholars in every specialty. 

Q: What will you be focusing on in your new role on the board of directors?

BM: I am pleased to move onto our board of directors to serve next to members who are dedicated to the students and mission of Nth Dimensions. As founder and senior advisor, I will be able to continue sharing the institutional knowledge of Nth Dimensions with Letitia Bradford, MD, and our leadership team as well as lending insights and making contributions to board governance. 

Q: With female medical students now outnumbering males, why do you think that women are so underrepresented in orthopedics? Do you see these figures changing in the future?

BM: Quantifiable shifts in gender demographics of medical school students will eventually reflect the numbers of women in surgical specialties, such as orthopedics. We are already witnessing an increase in the number of women residents across the country, with approximately 14 percent of residents being women. Reality has shown, however, that these types of shifts take time to develop, given the nine to 11 years of education and training required to become an orthopedic surgeon. As far as gender diversity is concerned, we are trending toward an increase in women. However, racial/ethnic diversity remains stagnant and is where a preponderance of effort is required. 

Q: What advice can you provide for female medical students considering a career in orthopedics?

BM: My advice for women in medical school seeking to become orthopedic surgeons would reflect the key components of Nth Dimensions' developmental pipeline curriculum:

Early awareness: Become informed about the field of orthopedics and the requirements of being a competitive applicant for residency. The most crucial step is finding a mentor in this medical field as soon as possible. 

Immersion: Get involved and get your hands dirty by seeking out opportunities to shadow residents and attendings, especially on weekends or holidays. This demonstrates a commitment to learning, academic curiosity and mental fortitude, all of which will be required to succeed in orthopedics and other competitive specialties.

Ongoing mentoring and professional development: Having a sound team of mentors and asking questions along the continuum of steps required to match in orthopedics are paramount. Having the insights of current surgeons — both male and female — is a critical component of successfully navigating this process. The world of orthopedics is tiny, so women and minorities have to be especially strategic in building relationships as well as displaying academic excellence. This is how anyone can be successful in the field.

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