Diversity among U.S. physicians has improved in recent years, but entrenched racial disparities still persist. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), more than half of all physicians are White and fewer than 5 percent are Black. For orthopedic surgery, the specialty that attends to bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the disparity is even more pronounced. Only 1.9 percent of practicing orthopedic surgeons are Black, and just 5 percent of orthopedic residents are Black.
A notable outlier is the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, where closing the diversity gap has been a priority for more than a decade. Under the leadership of Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, department chair and the Walter A.L. Thompson Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, and Kenneth A. Egol, MD, vice chair for education and the Joseph E. Milgram Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, the school’s Orthopedic Surgery Residency has become one of the nation’s most diverse. Among the program’s 70 trainees, 10 are Black, or almost 15 percent—nearly 3 times the national average for orthopedic surgery residency programs. The number of women in the program is 23, or more than 30 percent, which is more than double the national average.
“That’s huge,” says Toni M. McLaurin, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. “It’s not something you see in most orthopedic residency programs throughout the country.” The achievement builds on years of sustained and systemic efforts rooted in a culture of inclusivity. It starts with a diverse faculty to provide mentorship opportunities and serve as role models, and extends to medical students. “We’ve created a summer training program to expose medical students to orthopedic surgery very early in their education,” says Eric J. Strauss, MD, director of the Orthopedic Surgery Residency. “We’ve found that many of the students who spend the summer with us go on to apply for orthopedic surgery residency programs.”
Another differentiator is a scholarship program that enables underrepresented students in their fourth year of medical school to experience the Orthopedic Surgery Residency for a month. Still another is a workshop in which Black orthopedic faculty members discuss their professional pathway and demonstrate surgical techniques at meetings of the Student National Medical Association, a national organization committed to supporting underrepresented minority medical students.
The department’s diversity gains have been “a self-perpetuating phenomenon,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “We’ve crossed the hump, the biggest obstacle, which is having a critical mass to make our orthopedic surgery residency program more attractive to underrepresented minority medical students. People want to train in programs where they see people similar to themselves.”
“Study after study shows that patients experience better outcomes when they’re cared for by people who may look similar or have similar backgrounds or cultural similarities.”—Kirk A. Campbell, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at NYU Langone
The same is true of patients. “Study after study shows that patients experience better outcomes when they’re cared for by people who may look similar or have similar backgrounds or cultural similarities,” says Kirk A. Campbell, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone who is Black and completed his residency at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “There may be little subtleties that someone else may not pick up on, so I think it’s important to really promote diversity and equity within medicine.”