Adriana Urruela, M.D., is looking forward to a rewarding career in hand surgery. A fourth-year orthopaedics resident at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Urruela is one of a small but growing number of women entering the field of orthopaedic surgery.
“I studied engineering before choosing medicine,” said Dr. Urruela, who recently presented a grand rounds report on women in orthopaedic surgery. “While traditional stereotypes limit the number of women going into this field, I’ve had great experiences at the Miller School. The training here is some of the best you can find in this field.”
Nationally only about 6.5 percent of the members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) are women – the smallest number of any surgical specialty. But those numbers are substantially higher at the Miller School’s Department of Orthopaedics, which now has six women on its 35-member faculty – nearly 20 percent.
“The low number of women in orthopedics has been a serious problem since I was in training 30 years ago,” said Frank J. Eismont, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedics, chief of the orthopaedic spine service, and The George and Marla Bergmann Endowed Chair in Orthopaedics. “At that time, only 7 percent of residents were women. Now, it has increased to 14 percent, but we still have a long way to go. We need to find ways to have women in the earlier stages of training understand that orthopaedics is an exciting and rewarding way to practice medicine.”
Sheila Ann Conway, M.D., chief of the Division of Orthopaedic Oncology, program director of the orthopaedic surgery residency program and musculoskeletal oncology fellowship program, believes the Department of Orthopaedics’ commitment to recruiting women faculty benefits patients as well as its training programs. “Diversity in all its forms is beneficial for our school and university, improving our culture of inclusion as well as our service to patients, families and the community,” she said.
When Dr. Conway joined the department as a fellow in 2008, she was the only female faculty member. “I had never worked with a woman orthopaedic surgeon in my training, indicating how our field was so dominated by men,” she said. “Since getting involved with the residency program, I’ve made it a priority to improve the diversity of the program with the support of our chair.”
Currently, the other women members of the orthopaedics faculty include Karina Galoian, Ph.D., research associate professor; Helen Hui-Chou, M.D., assistant professor in the hand service team; Julianne Munoz, M.D., assistant professor in sports medicine; Giselle Hernandez, M.D., assistant professor and trauma-trained specialist; and Amruta Dipen Parekh, M.D., an orthopaedic-trained surgeon who provides non-operative care.
Dr. Conway says there are two primary reasons that orthopedics has attracted fewer women professionals than other fields. “There is a false perception that you need to be big and strong to do this work,” she said. “In addition, many women interested in medical careers have only minimal exposure to orthopaedic surgery, and lack role models in this field.”
To counteract those issues, Dr. Conway has spoken about orthopaedics at “Women Interested in Surgical Endeavors,” the Miller School’s annual panel discussion. She has also mentored other women professionals in orthopaedics.
Meanwhile, Dr. Urruela plans to do her part to bring more women into the field. “During my four years as a resident, we have increased from two to four women in training and a fifth woman will be joining us this fall,” she said. “We all recognize the importance of breaking through traditional stereotypes and introducing orthopaedics to high school students, so we can continue to expand the pipeline of women surgeons in the future.”