"Diversification and qualifications can and should be successful partners," said Vernon T. Tolo, MD, newly elected president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons during the 69th Annual Meeting in Dallas, this past February.

Tolo has given diversity in orthopaedics top priority as he spoke to Academy members during his inaugural speech. "The scarcity of women and minority medical students among those choosing orthopaedics as a career is disturbing. Only 7.2 percent of our current orthopaedic surgery residents are women, despite an annual increase in the number of women medical students. We need to explore innovative approaches in training and the way orthopaedic groups practice in order to attract more females," he said.

Tolo called on the leadership of the AAOS to volunteer as mentors and role models in a student's early years, perhaps becoming more involved during high school years, so that both women and minorities can receive an understanding and appreciation of orthopaedics as a career from orthopaedists.

"Paying more attention to the female high school athletes and offering them mentorship opportunities are other steps that can be taken. Attracting minority students into medicine and then into orthopaedics will take longer, but the AAOS will make this a high priority," said Tolo. He cited information provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges, statistics for the year 2000, on minority residency in orthopaedics. The breakdown for minority residents in orthopaedics: 11 percent Asian Americans; 5 percent African Americans; 3 percent Hispanic Americans; and 1 percent Native Americans.

The AAOS has taken steps to meet the challenges set forth by Tolo. The AAOS has teamed with the J. Robert Gladden Society and The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society, on mentoring programs. During the 69th annual meeting in Dallas, the Diversity Committee introduced its new mentoring initiative entitled: "The Changing Face of Orthopaedics". The program provided information that guides and helps underrepresented student groups to obtain an orthopaedic residency.

The Diversity Committee chaired by Augustus White, III, MD, was established in 1997. The goals of the organization are found in its mission statement which states in part:to enhance the patient-physician relationship, eliminate disparities in health care, and optimize access to orthopaedic care. The Committee seeks to foster the creation of an atmosphere of goodwill and collegiality towards women and minorities in the orthopaedic profession, and to make this intention known to the world of medicine in general.

White also serves as president of the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society (JRGS). White said the mission of JRGS "is to address the issue of diversity, culturally competent care, and the elimination of musculoskeletal health care disparities in minority patients.

"This society is a multicultural organization which welcomes members from all ethnic groups as well as Caucasians. A part of our mission is to teach and learn from one another as we enjoy professional collegiality. Working with the AAOS in its efforts to attract more minorities to orthopaedics is a good fit."

"JRGS has a very active mentoring committee. Its mission is to attract and assist individuals from underrepresented minorities into the orthopaedic profession. JRGS will work with the Diversity Committee to help identify students for the program. The goal is to support these students emotionally and educationally during their training, offer assistance and guidance in establishing their practice, and in furthering their educational goals at the completion of their training," said White.

Holly Duck, MD, is current president of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS) which was founded in 1983 as a support group for women in orthopaedics. She also serves as a member of the Diversity Committee. The current mission of RJOS is to encourage, promote, and advance the science and medical art and practice of orthopaedic surgery amongst women, and to promote women's musculoskeletal health, through scientific, educational and charitable activities.

The RJOS membership includes men and women who are among the leading educators and researchers in this evolving area. "The mentoring program officially began in 1992. We developed a list of mentors and a clearing house for matching mentors with interested participants. Both the Diversity Committee and RJOS have parallel programs which interweave," said Duck.

Programs of RJOS include mentoring; special presentations at the AAOS annual meeting on various topics such as domestic violence; osteoporosis; and biennial meetings with updates on musculoskeletal health and career development.

For more information about the AAOS mentoring program, call 800-626-6726.

An orthopaedic surgeon is a medical doctor with extensive training in the diagnosis and nonsurgical as well as surgical treatment of the musculoskeletal system, including bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.

The 25,500 member American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (Click here to visit their website) is a not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons, allied health professionals and the public.