Six percent. The latest statistics indicate that women make up only six percent of practicing orthopaedic surgeons, with women of color making up an even smaller percentage. Though there has been slow progress over the years, female residents largely continue to pursue virtually every other specialty.
In an effort to empower women and create a pipeline to the field, Penn Orthopaedics and the Perry Initiative regularly team up to host programming for young women in medical school and high school who are interested in orthopaedic surgery and engineering. Named for Dr. Jacquelin Perry — one of the country’s earliest female orthopaedic surgeons and an esteemed mentor to many — the initiative aims to encourage science-minded young women to advance in these traditionally male-dominated fields.
With the full support of L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS, chair of Orthopaedic Surgery, the latest outreach sessions were led by Kate O’Connor, MD, an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Kristy Weber, MD, chief of Orthopaedic Oncology and the first woman to be named president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and Penn Ortho residents. Through informal lectures and Q&A sessions, they shared their perspectives and experiences and touched on topics like opportunities for growth and leadership, subspecialties in the field, and maintaining a work/life balance.
“When I was in medical school, I was told that women couldn’t get into orthopaedic programs; they were too demanding, too competitive,” Weber said. “Twenty years later, I’m working with a team that I love, and I’m helping patients stay mobile. I think interacting with women in the field is really valuable, and it allows young women to better visualize a future in which they can do whatever they want. There’s definitely an element of ‘girl power’ in this!”
The highlight came when the students, some of whom had never picked up a power tool before, practiced drilling and sawing through bones, repairing fractures with intramedullary nails and external fixators, correcting scoliosis, and reconstructing ligaments during mock-surgery modules. These activities were not only fun — they were also successful in giving the med students a clearer understanding of their specialty options and exposing the high-schoolers to a new STEM field they may never have considered. The staff and residents left with the hope that they might someday see these same women join Penn’s top-notch Ortho team.
“The Perry Initiative offers young women an exciting opportunity to learn more about specialties that have historically been dominated by men in a hands-on way, and we’re proud to play a part in this experience every other year,” O’Connor said. “In order to make strides toward gender diversity, we need to inspire young women and help them realize there are no barriers to pursuing a career like orthopaedics.”
Read more about Weber’s orthopaedic journey and her reflections on role models and leadership on the Penn Medicine News Blog, part of the #WomenofPenn blog campaign.