New initiative encourages female medical students to specialize in orthopedics

Women now account for more than half of all medical students in the United States. However, orthopedic surgery struggles to attract women to the field.

In an effort to address the disparity, physicians in the Departments of Orthopedics from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) are spearheading new ways to attract female medical students to the specialty.

In findings published recently in the Journal of Surgical Education, a team at BIDMC and colleagues reported that annual workshops offered to female medical students boost the presence of women in the field of orthopedic surgery.

Capitalizing on a relatively large number of female faculty and residents, we established a low-cost workshop to introduce female medical students in New England to orthopaedic surgery.

The B.O.N.E.S initiative is a purely home-grown workshop with a singular focus on educating and recruiting female medical students to the field of orthopaedic surgery."

Tamara D. Rozental, MD, Chief of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery, BIDMC

Rozental wrote the paper with co-author Brandon E. Earp, MD, Chief of Orthopedics at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital.

Developed by female staff, residents, and fellows from the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program, the B.O.N.E.S. (Bringing Orthopaedics to New England Students of Medicine) Initiative is an annual half-day event, now heading into its fifth year.

The workshop provides networking opportunities, panel discussions and hands-on experience with orthopedic treatment techniques. Female medical students practice suturing, splinting, casting, and other techniques needed to treat disorders of the bones, muscles, and other components of the musculoskeletal system.

To assess the potential of the initiative to increase interest in the field, Rozental and her colleagues asked participants to complete an anonymous survey grading their satisfaction with the usefulness of the information presented at a B.O.N.E.S. workshop, their comfort level in interacting with faculty, and how the experience may have impacted their potential interest in orthopedic surgery.

Participants were also later contacted to determine whether they sought to pursue orthopedic surgery as a specialty after medical school.

Over three years, 155 female medical students participated in the program, and 97 percent found it useful.

Among 59 students who since became eligible to be matched to residency training positions, 22 matched into an orthopedic surgery residency programs – 22 percent of eligible first and second year participants and 61 percent of eligible third and fourth year participants matched to such programs.

Other match-eligible participants elected to pursue specialty training in different specialties, and the remaining students had not yet applied to the match.

"Although we are not alone in our outreach efforts, our workshop was successful in enhancing interest among female medical students," said Rozental, who is also a Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

"While we recognize that not all training programs have access to women orthopedic surgeons, and the experience may not be replicated everywhere, we hope, that every orthopedic surgery residency in the country considers organizing a similar program at the medical school level to increase the diversity in our field."

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