Dawn LaPorte understands the importance of attracting women to the historically male-dominated field of orthopaedics. “You want to have an orthopaedic faculty that represents the population and has diversity so you can provide that for your patients,”says LaPorte. “Also, if 49 percent of the graduating medical students are women, you’re missing out on more than one-third of the top talent if you only match 13 percent women.”
As the vice chair of education for the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, LaPorte believes female role models are key to overcoming the pervading myth of orthopaedics having a “jock” or “fraternity” culture.
“At institutions where there aren’t many women residents or faculty members, it’s hard for a female medical student to say, ‘I could pursue that career,’” she says. “Johns Hopkins has outstanding female faculty members, and we also have five female residents in the program. I think it helps students to see what it’s like to be at each level, to see that women are welcome.”
LaPorte leads by example, recently becoming the second woman to hold a full professorship in the department. For residents, LaPorte serves as a role model and mentor. Two current faculty members, Casey Humbyrd and Miho Tanaka, director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program, studied as residents with LaPorte as their program director.
Under LaPorte’s leadership, Johns Hopkins has hosted the Perry Initiative, which provides early exposure to orthopaedics for female high school and medical students. “It’s hands-on exposure to orthopaedic surgery,” says LaPorte. “We have female and male orthopaedic faculty members and residents teach and interact with these young women to show them what a great career orthopaedics can be.”
During her tenure, the residency program has added a motor skills lab at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where residents are led by experienced faculty members.“The lab is hugely important for hands-on learning. The residents are able to do procedures on cadavers, including spinal implantation, hip and knee arthroplasty, and arthroscopy. It’s the perfect way for them to learn in a lower-pressure environment,” says LaPorte.
The innovations and collaboration in the orthopaedic residency program at Johns Hopkins recently attracted the attention of the president of the Chinese Orthopaedic Association. This spring, LaPorte will travel to China to assist the largest hospital system in northwest China develop a program with a similar structure. “China is now looking for more standardization, oversight and assessment of competency,” she says. “We’re going to work with them to help develop a structure for that.”
A robust resident education program, early exposure to the field and diversification are important steps in moving the specialty of orthopaedics forward. “We’re training the future leaders of orthopaedics, the ones who are going to make a big difference,” she says.
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