Many advances in the medical field have come thanks to technological improvements over the past few decades. Technology often has the ability to eliminate or minimize a number of serious problems. One thing has not changed. Women are underrepresented in the field of orthopedics.
Orthopedic surgery has one of the lowest percentages of women surgeons, out of all primary surgical specialties. There are a few reasons for this.
Dr. Karen Wu, a female orthopedic surgeon at Loyola University Health System has continued to break the stereotype that orthopedics is a physically demanding field of medicine which requires a lot of strength. Dr. Wu is only 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighs 120 pounds.
An Orthopedic surgeon handles conditions related to muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons cartilages and other conjoining tissues. Technological progression in this field has given birth to new techniques and devices. This has practically eliminated the requirement for strength in this highly competitive field. There may still be a false perception about strength may be the reason why women only represent 4.3% of the members of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Another reason could be the lack of female role models in the field. When male and female medical students were asked about the need for role models, most students agreed that the lack of female role models in orthopedics effectively acts as a barrier to more women entering the field. Having a role model in this specialty is an important decision-making factor.
Another inter-connected reason is the snowball effect as explained by Dr. Terry Light, chairman of Loyola’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation. According to Dr. Light, women applicants have a higher tendency to pick a hospital that already has female surgeons. Since the numbers are already low, few females tend to pursue orthopedics.
Dr. Light said there is a significant difference in Loyola’s female presence. Women represent 20% of the orthopedic surgeons, outpacing the national average, 4.3%. Even at Loyola, there is a major difference in residency spots.
However, there has been a shift in attitude in recent years. It is been recognized now that orthopedics is a much friendlier field for women. During the past 30 years, there has been a five-fold increase in women. Women now account for almost half of all medical school graduates. As world population grows the need for orthopedic surgeons grows too, male or female.
There are now a number of organizations that have been created to increase the number of women in orthopedics. These organizations act as a support and networking group for women orthopedic surgeons. Such groups are now making a difference. The number of female role models is now also increasing. Chairman of Rush University Medical Center’s orthopedic surgery department , Dr. Joshua Jacobs, is of the view that the number of female applicants has been increased recently.
Current statistics show that while there is still a major disparity, as time progresses, the number of women entering the field of orthopedic surgery is increasing.